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At This Hour

Biden-Putin Discuss Ukraine by Video Call; China Threatens U.S. over Olympic Boycott; Mark Meadows Refuses Cooperation with Insurrection Probe; Steve Bannon Attempts Delay of Trial; Gas and Oil Prices Come Down. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired December 07, 2021 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: The meeting comes at a critical time with Russia amassing tens of thousands of troops on the border with Ukraine with the threat of another possible invasion looming. White House officials say President Biden will be warning Putin that Russia will face severe sanctions if Putin makes a decision to invade Ukraine.

The Kremlin has signaled today's call will be lengthy but is also tamping down expectations, saying they don't expect any major progress to be made. Let's start at the White House this hour. Jeff Zeleny is there for us.

Are you hearing anything so far?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: The meeting has been underway nearly an hour or so. It started about 10:07 Eastern time. We are not getting a readout of course.

But we saw the very beginning parts of the meeting, only because it was shared on Russian state TV. There were, you know, a quick, warm greeting and President Biden says he wishes he would have seen Vladimir Putin at the G20 in person.

He said, "Next time I hope to see you in person." So that was just the very beginning of the meeting. White House officials are telling us there will be more of an extended readout after the meeting is over.

The length of time is an interesting question. When they met in person six months ago in Geneva, Switzerland, the meeting was about two hours. This may be longer or not. We'll see how it goes.

This is something that, you know, the time and the duration and the body language is one of the many things that will be read into this. But we will not have a sense of that.

In terms of the White House, President Biden is doing his part of the meeting from the White House Situation Room, in the basement of the White House. President Putin is doing his from his vacation retreat, essentially. So certainly a different style. Not sure how much we should read into that, either. But President Biden clearly wants to show that diplomacy is on the

table but he also wants to show there is a cost to invading Ukraine, a significant cost. That's why he was on the phone yesterday with European leaders as well, all getting on the same page here.

Again, diplomacy is the hope of this meeting. We'll see if anything comes of it at all. No high expectations here for anything in the short term but long-term diplomacy is certainly the goal, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Jeff, thank you for that.

We'll keep Jeff close by as this continues.

Meantime, a top Ukrainian official is warning that the world will witness a, quote, "bloody massacre" if Russia invades.

CNN's Matthew Chance is live in Odessa.

You spoke with Ukraine's defense minister, who is a man who offered that warning.

What else did he say?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oleksiy Reznikov has only been in the job about four weeks. He was appointed defense minister when this crisis hadn't reached acute levels. So he's spent the last few weeks trying to work out the best strategy forward.

He had words of advice for President Biden when I spoke to him exclusively here in the Ukrainian port city of Odessa yesterday.

He said President Biden, the United States, should stand strong against Vladimir Putin and that the sort of politics, the idea that you can appease Russia -- I'm paraphrasing a little bit -- the idea you can appease Russia will not work.

He also warned of dire consequences if Russia were to take the decision to invade this country of Ukraine. Take a listen.


CHANCE: Do you believe Russia will invade?

OLEKSIY REZNIKOV, UKRAINIAN DEFENSE MINISTER: I not believe that -- I will not believe that Russia will have a victory in Ukraine. It's a different because it will be a really bloody massacre. And Russian guys also will come back in coffins, yes.


CHANCE: OK. That meeting taking place online, of course, that video call taking place, still underway for about an hour. The Kremlin say they don't expect any big diplomatic breakthrough but they will be setting out Vladimir Putin's demands.

And those being a legally binding agreement that would stop NATO, the Western military alliance, from expanding any further eastwards toward Russia's borders. They see that as a big security threat.

A big challenge for President Biden is essentially how to navigate that, keep support for Ukraine but also prevent Russia from undertaking any kind of military action against Ukraine.

BOLDUAN: Matthew, thank you so much.

Joining me for more on this is CNN chief political correspondent, co- host of "STATE OF THE UNION," Dana Bash. Dana, Matthew and Jeff did a great job laying out the stakes.

But why do you see this call and conversation as so important for President Biden and his foreign policy agenda right now?


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Because dealing with Russia requires the ultimate in diplomatic nuance. And it is the issue and it is the characteristic that President Biden campaigned on, that he has years of experience, decades of experience in the U.S. Senate, including being the Foreign Affairs chairman and, of course, as vice president.

So how he deals with the Russian president at this moment is so key. And we have so many clues just leading up to this, not the least of which is that the president has been calling or had been calling Western allies ahead of this.

And it's pretty clear that the goal there was to speak with one voice, that the United States and other Western allies are going to say to Vladimir Putin, whatever it is that they're going to say but do it together.

So much of this is Vladimir Putin posturing. You heard Jeff saying, well, that Putin is at his vacation home, not sure if there's anything to read into that. Nothing that he does is by accident. There's no question that he does that by design, to show, well, I'm relaxed, I'm OK, nothing to see here.

And I know that from covering these issues for a long time and specifically covering the Bush White House, listening to President Bush tell me and other reporters so many stories about what Putin was like behind closed doors.

He is all about trying to be a player and to play those he is with. That is going to be the underpinning of this conversation that's going on.

BOLDUAN: And Biden did -- I mean, Biden has -- he ran on his foreign policy chops. So many speeches on repairing alliances but also being able to deal effectively with adversaries, Russia chief among them, of course.

I think the big question seems to be how do you thread the needle here diplomatically? How do you push back firmly but not make things worse, since there is clearly very little desire to send U.S. troops to battle on Ukraine's behalf in this moment?

Is it clear to you what the White House approach is to pulling this off?

BASH: You know, threading the needle is a perfect way to put it because what Vladimir Putin generally wants, when he does this kind of thing -- it's not the first time he's amassed troops on the border with Ukraine.

And what he generally wants is something in return, whether it is something regarding NATO, not allowing that, or something diplomatic, something financial, something, a military ask. All of those things are clearly on Vladimir Putin's wish list.

At the same time, the president -- again, with America's Western allies -- they have a lot in their quiver as well, including economic sanctions, deep economic sanctions. In the last hour, Jim Sciutto and Erica Hill were talking to an expert about the fact that all the West has to do is to go after the oligarchs, who really hold Vladimir Putin's very, very vast wealth.

It's not that hard. It is a very, very big and monumental move, if that's what he is to do. But the notion of Putin potentially knowing that that is something that the West is willing to do could be enough to get him to back down.

I mean, again, you can't underscore enough so much of this is about posturing. Having said that, the West understands that Putin has acted on this. Crimea was annexed and still is, to this day, and that was a power play that had real consequences by Vladimir Putin.

BOLDUAN: And another factor is also China, not necessarily in this exact conversation but, you know, now warning the U.S. that it's going to pay a price for the Olympic diplomatic boycott at the same time this is happening with Russia.

Biden is also facing an inflection point with China.

What do you think that means for him, kind of all of this added together?

BASH: This is why he has the job. There are so many domestic challenges, global challenges when it comes to the health crisis, the pandemic but, from the beginning of his candidacy, continued to now, President Biden has said that China is the number one competitor, adversary of the United States economically but also diplomatically and when it comes to human rights.

And the United States made a very intentional decision to say that the president and his diplomatic aides would not be going to the Olympics because of the human rights abuses and other things China has been doing.


BASH: That is intentional but it is a diplomatic high wire act. And that is not that different from the high wire act that he is engaging in, as we speak, in this call with Vladimir Putin.

These are the two most prominent, important players on the world stage that are the most difficult to deal with for any U.S. President. And at least for now, this is one of the most important tests on the foreign policy level since Afghanistan.

And that's a very different situation; didn't go so well. So this is why this is a critical time, a critical moment, a critical hour, as this conversation is happening.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Dana. Really appreciate it.

BASH: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: To that other foreign policy we were discussing for President Biden, China is warning that it will retaliate against the United States if it follows through with the diplomatic boycott on the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing. Let's go over to Shanghai. CNN's David Culver is there.

What exactly is China threatening to do?

What are you hearing?

DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, for now, using strong words, "The U.S. will pay a price for its wrongdoing." "The U.S. has shot itself in the foot." "Wait and see."

Those are all the phrases that have come out of the foreign ministry through its spokesperson today. And, of course, it sends a response, as you were talking about, to the diplomatic boycott the U.S. has put forward through the White House, that they essentially will not participate in the upcoming Beijing 2022 Olympics.

The reason that the White House is doing this is because of the allegations of human rights abuses that have been taking place in Xinjiang, that Far Western region, particularly against the Uyghur community. I want you to hear a little bit from the spokesperson of the foreign ministry, addressing that one point in particular.


ZHAO LIJIAN, SPOKESPERSON, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY (through translator): Out of ideological bias and based on lies and rumors, the U.S. attempts to disrupt the Beijing Winter Olympic Games. This will only expose its malicious intention to the world and move to greater loss of moral authority and credibility.


CULVER: I want to isolate one word in that and that it's "ideological." So the ideology will be important here, Kate. Why?

If we look at what potential countermeasures could be put in place, I think it will weigh more on the side of pushing forward China's ideology rather than putting forward an action that would cause countermeasures, for example, sanctions or visa restrictions on diplomats.

So that could mean something as simple but very symbolic as blocking certain U.S. films from entering what is the biggest box office in the world: China -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: David, thank you.

Coming up for us still this hour, more than a year after former president Donald Trump was hospitalized with the coronavirus, we are learning new details of just how sick he was and how the White House lied about it. We'll be right back.





BOLDUAN: Developing this hour, just as quickly as Mark Meadows was cooperating with the January 6th committee, it looks like now he's not. CNN's Whitney Wild is live in Washington with details on what exactly changed.

What are you hearing, Whitney?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In short, Meadows is saying they don't believe the committee is being fair. That is their main argument for this about-face. They sent a letter and it lists a series of things.

They say, in short, we now have every indication from the information supplied to us last Friday upon which Meadows could expect to be questioned that the select committee has no intention of respecting boundaries concerning executive privilege.

Kate, we know that so many people are hinging their -- what they say is an inability to provide testimony to the committee on the concept of executive privilege. It is a more logical argument for Mark Meadows to make because he was a very close aide to then president Trump.

Obviously, he was the chief of staff, an employee there at the White House. So a more logical but still debatable concept here because there's been a lot of debate about who can claim executive privilege once a presidency ends.

Further, he says, we learned over the weekend that the select committee had, without even the basic courtesy of notice to us, issued wide-ranging subpoenas for information from a third-party communications provider.

Kate, this is, again, just a little snapshot of the several reasons they say that the select committee is not being fair. They do say, though, they are willing to consider written questions so that there is this clean record of the way that the conversations go.

However, we know that the committee has released testimony in the past, you know, written testimony here -- the Jeffrey Clark testimony a perfect example -- so there would be a clean record in writing. However, they say, again, they're willing to consider written questions. But at this point, not cooperating is the big headline here, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Whitney, thank you very much for that.

There's also another Trump ally who is back in court, Steve Bannon on his contempt of Congress charge. Trump's former adviser is trying to delay when his trial would begin. Sara Murray is live in Washington following all of this.

What is Bannon trying to do here?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Essentially he's trying to slow walk this and trying to make this a political trial that plays out in the media.


MURRAY: His lawyers made clear in a filing they don't want to go to trial before October of next year. The government said we think this should be handled before April. So those are very different timelines.

They're arguing right now in court about what should be considered protected material. The government wants witness statements, things like that, under wraps. And Bannon's team is saying we want this to be publicly available.

They're using the government's -- some of Bannon's previous comments against him, saying this is someone trying to go forward, have this trial played in the media. We want it tried in a courtroom. A couple issues they're wrangling over today. The big thing we're waiting for is a trial date.

BOLDUAN: Sara, thank you.

Back to Mark Meadows, because we are learning just how sick former president Trump was when he got COVID last year.

Meadows' new book actually reveals that Trump's blood oxygen levels dropped to a dangerous level, further contradicting statements by the White House at the time about a very serious issue, which is the health of the president of the United States.

Gabby Orr joins me with more details.

What else does Meadows say in this book, Gabby? GABBY ORR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Mark Meadows writes that then president Trump was so sick when he contracted COVID-19, he could not carry his own briefcase to Marine One as he left the White House for Walter Reed hospital.

He talks about the Regeneron treatment that Trump was on at the time but notes that the White House doctor, Sean Connolly, said to Mark Meadows that, judging by the details he had given Meadows, quote, "It was clear that the staff at Walter Reed was prepared for a long stay, weeks, maybe longer, when Donald Trump first arrived there last October."

This is, of course, a major departure from how the White House publicized Trump's health at the time. And we've also learned through the reporting on this book that there are other things that the White House withheld regarding Trump's COVID-19 diagnosis and the way they handled internal COVID-19 outbreaks.

CNN has reached out to Donald Trump's team for comment on this matter but they have not gotten out to back to us.

BOLDUAN: Gabby, thanks so much for that.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us this hour, as temperatures are falling across the United States, so are energy prices.

What's driving down those costs and also the price at the gas pump?

That's next.





BOLDUAN: New this morning, there is finely some relief at the pump. AAA reporting the national average price of gas dropped four cents in the last week to $3.35 a gallon. Let's get over to CNN's Matt Egan with more on this for us.

$3.35 is still high.

But is it stabilizing?

What else are you seeing?

MATT EGAN, CNN BUSINESS SENIOR WRITER: We know Americans are dealing with historic levels of inflation but there is some good news on the sticker shock front, especially with energy. The $3.35 is a seven-week low, down four cents in a week, seven cents in a month.

Prices are still high but they finally stopped going straight up. That's for a few reasons. One, this U.S.-led intervention into energy markets -- remember, President Biden announced the largest-ever release of barrels from the strategic petroleum reserve. Other countries joined in.

The other factor is fears about Omicron sent oil prices into a tailspin. We have to keep an eye on this because there's some uncertainty over how long gas prices will continue to tick lower because oil has started to rebound as Omicron fears have started to fade. So we could see a reversal on the gas price front eventually.

The other thing we have to talk about is natural gas because there are a lot of concerns about home heating costs spiking this winner. The good news is natural gas, as you can see, it's still up on the year but 40 percent lower in the last two months. Yesterday was natural gas' worst day in nearly three years. That's for a few reasons.

One, temperatures have actually been warmer than usual, so that means there's less demand for home heating and for natural gas. We've seen a tick up in natural gas production.

There are a lot of concerns about a European-style kind of shortage of natural gas in the United States. Those concerns, they were really overdone. That was never going to happen because the U.S. is the biggest producer of natural gas in the world.

Kate, I think, big picture, inflation is still here. There are still reasons to be concerned about inflation. But for the moment, there are some glimmers of hope on the energy front.

BOLDUAN: Good to hear. Matt, thank you so much for that.

Turning now to the pandemic, New York City's new COVID-19 mandate for private sector workers will affect nearly 200,000 businesses across the city. The move did catch some businesses by surprise, saying that they're now concerned about the strain that this mandate requirement could put on them.

Katherine Wild is the president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, a prominent and leading business group.

Thank you for joining me. You've been critical of this announcement coming from the mayor. You said you were blindsided.