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At This Hour

China's Xi, Russia's Putin Meet For High-Stakes Summit; Cohen's Fmr. Legal Adviser To Testify To Grand Jury In Hush Money Case. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 20, 2023 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, Donald Trump says that he expects to be indicted in New York. And though he's the only one saying that right now, he's already calling on his supporters to take to the streets. And mayhem in Miami Beach, two fatal shootings and unruly crowds, forcing the city to impose a spring break curfew. This is what we're watching AT THIS HOUR.

Thank you for being here, everybody. I'm Kate Bolduan. The stakes are high today, no doubt. And so is a level of skepticism around the visit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Xi arrived in Moscow this morning for a three day state visit, his first since Russia launched the invasion of Ukraine. And the timing is also noteworthy because just days ago, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin himself on war crimes charges.

Adding to the skepticism around this whole trip, China's promoting it as a peacemaking mission to bring resolution in Ukraine, you'll be hard pressed to find any experts suggesting a major breakthrough on ending the war is going to come from this visit. But world leaders are watching it all very closely, nonetheless, for any clues of what moves Russia and China might make. We're covering all the angles of this visit for you. Let's start with Matthew Chance who is live in Moscow? Matthew, what are you hearing from Russian officials today?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Russian officials are treating this as a diplomatic coup, the visit of Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader to Russia at a time like this is really exactly the kind of symbolic show of support that the Kremlin has been looking for. It's the first time that Xi Jinping has come to Russia, since Russia launched this invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago.

But it's also just a couple of days after Vladimir Putin was indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes. And so this sends a strong message that Vladimir Putin is not isolated, not as isolated as some of the West would like him to be. And he's got this very powerful figure in Xi Jinping, literally standing side by side with him here at the Kremlin.

There -- beyond the symbolism there a couple of concrete things we're watching for. The first is whether or not China will offer to provide military assistance to Russia in its war in Ukraine. It hasn't done that so far. But there's a possibility it may change its position on that. Certainly if it sees Russia, sort of on the back foot it may move to intervene and support Russia.

The second thing is you just mentioned the diplomatic initiative that China has launched, it's a 12 planned point peace plan, which calls for negotiations between Ukraine and Russia, but crucially does not call on Russia to withdraw from the territory it's already conquered. And so it's got a pretty lukewarm response so far. Nevertheless, the Kremlin says that is what is going to be discussed, as well as a much closer relationship between Moscow and Beijing during the three day state visit.

BOLDUAN: A lot to watch for here, Matthew, thank you so much for being there. So the Biden administration is keeping a quote, very, very close eye on these meetings. Let's get there. MJ Lee is at the White House for us AT THIS HOUR. MJ how is the White House viewing this Xi- Putin meeting?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, the White House is viewing the summit with a whole lot of skepticism to say the least. They're really rejecting this notion that this Putin and Xi meeting is a peacekeeping mission. Any deal that is brokered by China, they're basically saying would be bad for Ukraine. And they're really trying to set expectations ahead of this meeting to the American public about what they should and shouldn't take away from the meeting.

One warning that we are hearing loud and clear from the White House is that if there is a call for a ceasefire, they're essentially saying that it would only be a ceasefire in name only, that this would be sort of a protect -- pretense ceasefire, where it would give the opportunity, essentially, to Vladimir Putin to regroup and come back with full force whenever he chose to do so.

So again, this warning that if we do see coming out of this meeting, a call for a ceasefire, basically, that they would not take that seriously, and that the U.S. would reject those calls. The White House is, of course, also warning Beijing, again, to not provide any lethal aid to Russia. We know that this is something that White House officials have been monitoring very closely. They don't believe that Beijing has actually made a decision on this front. But it is something that they have been really concerned about.

Of course, we heard the President saying a couple of days ago that he does plan on speaking directly with Xi, but that meeting has not been set yet. Kate.

BOLDUAN: All right. Standby for that one for sure. MJ, thank you.

So Ukraine is making clear this morning that any Chinese peace plan or any other peace plan for that matter must begin with Russia's withdrawal completely from their country. Let's go to Ukraine now. David McKenzie is live in Odessa with this side of things. David, what's the view from the Ukrainian leaders on all of this that we've just been talking about? DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, you described the fundamental issue here, which is for any peace talk to start consistently, the Ukrainians and the President has said that what Russia needs to withdraw its forces from all Ukrainian territory that's something that Vladimir Putin is highly unlikely to do of course. But they have said that they're watching this very closely in particular. The foreign ministry saying they want Beijing to use its, quote, influence over Moscow to potentially push things in a direction that is useful to Ukraine.


I think one thing worth mentioning here is that Xi Jinping in the last few months has certainly tried to cast himself as this peacemaker, an alternative to the U.S. in his eyes to try and bring peace or at least start the negotiation process. So we shouldn't rule it out 100 percent. But it looks pretty dim, as you said, for any kind of major breakthrough. And if you look at the contrast between what's happening in Moscow, and what is happening in capitals of Europe, Foreign Minister of Estonia, Defense Minister, in fact, announcing that a million rounds of ammunition have now been pledged by Europe to get Ukraine quickly to try and shore up their defenses for a possible counter offensive. So the talk on this side of this discussion is very different from what it is in Moscow. Kate?

BOLDUAN: It sure seems like it and understandably so. David, thank you.

Joining me now for more on all of this is Gary Locke. He's a former U.S. ambassador to China and CNN contributor and former CNN Moscow bureau chief, Jill Dougherty. Thank you both for being here. Ambassador, it's good to see you again. What do you -- what is your overall thought on this visit, the timing, the staging, the messaging around it for Xi?

GARY LOCKE, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO CHINA: Well, I think this visit accomplishes several things. First of all, it burnishes and reinforces the image of Putin despite the World Court calling for his arrest for war crimes. It's showing solidarity by China with its longtime ally, Russia, and saying that it's not going to abandon Putin. At the same time, China is trying to reinforce its image around the world as a peacemaker.

Just a few -- just last week, China help broker a reestablishment of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia. And so China is trying to project that image of a facilitator of peace around the world. At the same time, I'm sure that the Russia will want to get more money and support from China that would enable it to continue the war against Ukraine.

I wouldn't be surprised if there are some trade agreements, some sales that are announced where China commits to buying more oil and gas from Russia, providing income to the Russian government to continue the war against Ukraine.

BOLDUAN: Real quick, Ambassador, from your perch, do you believe that Xi Jinping can play a peacemaking effective role when it comes to the conflict in Ukraine? Do you think that he can?

LOCKE: No, not given the position of the Ukrainians and the Russians where Russia says that it will not withdraw from its territory? You know, this is somewhat interesting, because China has always said that it wants all countries to abide by the sovereignty, the territorial sovereignty of all countries. And yet, it is not calling for Russia to respect the borders of Ukraine and to withdraw.

BOLDUAN: Jill, you have said that this is -- this visit is extremely important for President Putin. Why?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, just the timing of it, number one, it's the first visit, as you pointed out by Xi to any country after being reelected to an unprecedented third term. So symbolically, it's important. It comes right after the ICC. And I think it's notable that the equivalent of the Russian FBI in answer to the International Criminal Court's decision to issue an arrest warrant is now having an investigation as they put it into the prosecutor and the judge of the ICC. So that timing is very important.

But I think really the timing for Russia, at least, and for Putin is economic. He really needs help from the Chinese, especially when it comes to things like high tech, you know, 5G, microchips, et cetera, that had been really affected by international sanctions against Russia over Ukraine. And also it's notable, I think this is going to be a summit where you have to read the fine print. But already President Xi has said that talking about the upcoming Russian election presidential in 2024, he said, you know, the presidential elections will be taking place.

The developments under President Putin have the notable economic and then he said and I believe the Russian people will continue to strongly support you. So already, you can say that Putin has picked up an endorsement for the election next year. So domestically and internationally it's very important for President Putin to and to continue to sell as the Ambassador has said oil and gas that's crucial.


BOLDUAN: Ambassador, I want to play for you, the White House's message around this and this quote, you know, this quote unquote, friendship with no limits. Let me play for you, John Kirby Speaking to CNN this morning.


JOHN KIRBY, WH NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR: This is a marriage of convenience, not of affection. These are two countries that don't have a heck of a whole lot of trust between one another, but they find common cause and pushing back on the west and pushing back on American leadership.


BOLDUAN: I thought John's take there was an interesting one, an interesting message to put out this morning. What do you hear in that Ambassador?

LOCKE: Well, that is very true. This is a an alliance of convenience, they need each other. They both object to the dominance of the domination of the United States and the Western powers for the last several centuries, they -- China feels that it has come into its own, and that now that it's part of the club, that it really should have a seat at the table really helping write the rules of the clubs, the bylaws of the club, so to speak. And they really bristle at the domination and the -- in some ways the heavy handedness as they feel of the West, and especially the United States.

They don't like the sanctions that have been imposed, and the tariffs that have been imposed on Chinese goods, it's hurt their economy. They don't like using sanctions and tariffs in terms of accomplishing political objectives. So they are actually teaming up with many other countries around the world in trying to stand up to the United States.

And quite frankly, it's to China's advantage for the war between Russia and Ukraine to continue, because in their view, in Beijing's view, it distracts the United States from the Asia Pacific.

BOLDUAN: Jill, as you've noted that Vladimir Putin isn't just looking for handshakes in this three day visit. He is also looking for an agreement, for help from China in supplying weapons and ammunition. It's still unclear exactly if China is going to do that. But how much does Russia need this now?

DOUGHERTY: It definitely needs it. And you look at what they've done so far. They've reached out to Iran for drones. They've reached out to North Korea, for weaponry and especially ammunition, so they definitely needed. And those parts that we were talking about the high tech components are very important for their weapons, not only commercially but the weapons that they produce, the high tech weapons that they don't have a lot of.

And because of sanctions, they are limited in the amount of high tech technology that they can get from the west. So they need China for that help, too. But it's very complicated for China's still at this point to do that because if they do supply lethal weaponry, they can begin, obviously, they will come into sanctions by the United States and probably other countries in the West. And that would be very bad for the Chinese economy, especially after a couple of years of COVID shutdown.

China needs trade. And the question will be are they willing to jeopardize the trade that they have with the West to help out Russia?

BOLDUAN: Jill, thank you. It's good to see you. Ambassador, thank you as always.


So last minute testimony today in the Stormy Daniels hush money investigation against former President Trump and there's also a new development out of Georgia as the D.A. there continues investigating Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election, all of that is next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Lots of moving parts today in more than one of the investigations into Donald Trump. In New York Robert Costello, a former legal adviser to Trump's former fixer Michael Cohen, he is set to appear before the grand jury today. And he's expected to contradict Cohen's testimony about hush money payments made to Stormy Daniels years ago. The Manhattan D.A. could also be calling back Cohen as a possible rebuttal witness. Let's get to this. Paula Reid, she's back with us again today. It's good to see you, Paula. Let's separate what's being said from what we know is actually happening, what is going to be happening in court today.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: So today, the grand jury will have the opportunity to hear from Rob Costello. And even though the prosecutors, they're the ones running the show on a grand jury, this was a witness that was requested by the defense. And even though prosecutors didn't have to grant that request, as I understand it, it's an optics thing, right?

If they were to decline this request to it would become a thing in an investigation that is already, you know, pretty big thing in the country. Yes. So the grand jury will have the option to hear from him. It's expected that they will like to hear what he has to say about the credibility of Michael Cohen. As you noted, he previously represented Cohen but Cohen has subsequently waived attorney-client privilege, which is how he's able to talk about things that happen when he was advising him. Cohen and his attorney, Lanny Davis, will also be at court today. And he may be called as a rebuttal witness, we'll see.

BOLDUAN: And so we will stand by to see that one. And then there's also what the former president is saying. The former president has said that he thinks he's going to be arrested tomorrow. He's called for protests from his supporters around it. You spoke with one of his attorneys. What did -- what did they say about this?


REID: Well. at first, in terms of being arrested tomorrow his team has publicly come out and said we have no reason to believe that. So it appears to the former president is speculating as one of his attorneys, Alina Habba, she does not represent him in the Manhattan DA case. But she was sort of deputized to come out and talk about this case, you know, why is he speculating, and in the same sentence, he's speculating. He's also calling for protests as he tried to capitalize on speculating on an arrest to instigate political violence. And she had an opportunity there to tamp down the language, she doubled down on this and said, quote, if he is arrested, it will be mayhem.

So we know from our colleagues that a lot of folks around Trump would rather that he just focus on this possibly being a politically motivated prosecution and not focus on calling people to protest in the wake of January 6th. And it's interesting today, Kate, his Truth Social posts, you don't see calls for protests in all of them. So it's possible that they're getting through. But as we know, law enforcement, they've been talking about these potential threats. And also just the logistics of getting the former leader of the free world through a courthouse that on a good day is a circus, it's very chaotic, and potentially dangerous.

BOLDUAN: Yes, well, Paula is going to be here sticking close, because a lot of moving parts, obviously, as we're sitting here, thank you. I really appreciate it.

So joining me now for more on this is former U.S. Attorney, Michael Moore. Michael, let's do -- let's hit on a couple of things. But let's start in New York City. Why would Costello choose to speak up now? Why would the defense team want to bring him in now? And, you know, because of that, and answer me this, and then we'll talk about the D.A.'s motivation in this, next.

MICHAEL MOORE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Yes, no, I'm glad to be with you. I mean, Trump had the opportunity to speak and so this is a way to keep Trump off the stand, but get his side out before the grand jury. And, you know, they want to look like at least that they're given the appearance. And so I'm sure that Costello is sort of carrying the former president's water, right now as they go into the grand jury to throw some doubt there.

And then you're going to see this played over and over again, as they talk about the validity of the grand jury of what they heard, what they didn't hear, why they wouldn't let somebody ask a question, those things. And it -- we really are not -- we're playing more now in the PR arena, and the press room, that we are necessarily in the courtroom. And I think that's, you know, that's just where we are with the former president.

BOLDUAN: But you also say bringing in Costello could be a trap that's being set by the district attorney, tell me what you mean?

MOORE: So I think it's a great move to let him testify. And I tip my hat to him for doing that. Because basically, what you do is you go ahead and say, well, we're going to give you your day in court, you can send who you want to, tell us, you know, Mr. Trump, that he'd like to come testify, let him testify. And then you get to hear sort of what the anticipated defenses may be to a case. You get to get a witness under oath that you can then go after if they purge themselves in some way.

You may be holding an ace up your sleeve about Mr. Costello and the testimony he may give. You get a chance to bring Cohen back in now, I wouldn't want to base my case just on Mr. Cohen's testimony. He's got his own problems that he's been through in the last few years, but at least it gives them a chance to hear things in advance or like a lawyer does discovery in a case so that you can find out what the other side is going to say. This lets him actually get testimony under oath in a criminal case, which is not that common.

But it allows him to have that, the prosecutor that is, to have that in his back pocket as he moves forward. So it's a good move on his part, good gamesmanship, whether or not the end of the day, it really matters. What will be something else? Because I don't know that it's necessarily going to sway the grand jury one way or another. BOLDUAN: Yes. And also just your take on Donald Trump calling on his supporters and saying that he thinks that he's going to be, thinks he's going to be arrested, but also calling in a support as to protest in the way you put it is to take our nation back if it happens, what do you make of that, Michael?

MOORE: That's like he's doing nothing but ring in the money bill. And that is he's just trying to get people to give him money. He's putting on a big front. I mean, he is doing something that I think is he's getting good advice on and that is to take advantage of the megaphone he's been given, and, you know, come out and basically own this thing, talk about it being a witch hunt. And let me say this, I don't agree with anything that he's saying. And I think it's not a witch hunt.

But if you got somebody like him, and this is what he's going to do, you tell him to go ahead and just own it, get on the courthouse steps, make you big speech, talk about how you're being a martyr for the calls, and make America great again, and all this kind of stuff, and use that opportunity, every chance you get. And if you're trying to reach the general public, you're trying to reach donors more, you know, pragmatically.

But you also might be going to read some potential jurors out there as they hear this and family members of jurors who are going to be talking about this in the months ahead. And you know, this conversation will be, you know, it's like dropping a rock in a pond, it's going to ripple out through, you know, the maggot ground.

BOLDUAN: Yes, well, let me also -- I will also want to ask you about the Georgia case that we've spoken and covered for so long at this point involving Trump's attempts to overturn the 2020 election results there. My colleague Don Lemon is reporting the prosecutors are considering racketeering and conspiracy charges in connection to the efforts to help Trump in Georgia. You have also, I was looking that you've also said that racketeering charges might be an area that they would be pursuing that those might be coming as well. What does it mean that -- if they are?


MOORE: Well, so the RICO statute, that racketeering statute, is just a gift to prosecutors. And what it allows a prosecutor to do is sort of use the whole story as opposed to just the charge criminal conduct. But most of the viewers have probably heard about relevance objections in court without a judge, let something in because it's irrelevant and are irrelevant, keeps it out.

The racketeering statute allows you talk about everything, things that aren't even listed in the indictment, or are part of they're not even talking about other people's conduct sort of one person to the criminal enterprise, does something wrong, then you can kind of use it to look at blame for the person charged in the indictment. And so that's what's happening with the racketeering statute.

So I'm not surprised at all to see who are using it. She's had a lawyer that's been working on racketeering cases that has helped her before on this. And so you think of them usually, when you think about gangs, think about drug organizations, you think about the mafia. That's what she's talking about with a racketeering case. It's going to be interesting to see whether or not she can actually take this idea of is this a criminal organization so that all the tentacles moving can be followed back to the head of the thing?

Is this something that's going to stick in the political arena? I think it could be problematic when we start talking about whether or not if she were to get a conviction, if it can survive an appeal, or if it could survive pretrial motions, you know, that's going to be taken all the way to the Supreme Court and whether or not they say that a former president can be indicted for RICO, for things that happen, especially with things that may have been alleged to have been happening while he was president of the United States.

But that's what she's doing. She's basically being able to talk about the whole book, as opposed to just one chapter of it under the RICO statute.

BOLDUAN: It's so interesting. Michael, it's good to see you. Thank you.

MOORE: Always good to be with you, Kate, thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

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