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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Prosecutors Cross-Examines Man Who Fatally Shot Ahmaud Arbery; Anticipation Grows As Jury Deliberates For Third Day; Biden Hosts Leaders Of Canada, Mexico At The White House; Pelosi: House Could Pass Social Spending Bill Today; New Revelations Spark More Scrutiny Of Steele Dossier; Chinese Journalist Jailed For Reporting About COVID Outbreak Said To Be Near Death From Hunger Strike. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired November 18, 2021 - 16:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Major developments in two trials that could shake this nation.

THE LEAD starts right now.

The man who shot unarmed black jogger Ahmaud Arbery on the defensive as prosecutors try to punch holes in his story. The stunning step by step account of the final moments of Arbery's life.

A critical day for the president's $1.7 trillion spending plan as we find out whether it will pay for itself like the White House claims.

And she was thrown in prison for reporting on the early days of COVID in China. The new push to free her as her health now fails.


BROWN: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Pamela Brown in for Jake Tapper.

And we begin with our national lead, and a pair of emotionally charged trials are attracting nationwide attention. In just a moment, we're going to get to the latest developments as a jury deliberates the fate of Kyle Rittenhouse, a teenager facing homicide charges in the killings of two men during last year's Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

But let's start in Georgia where three white men face murder charges in the death of an unarmed black jogger named Ahmaud Arbery. This afternoon, a group of pastors led a march in support of Arbery's family and demanded justice. And earlier today, one of the defendants faced a tough cross examination from prosecutors.

As CNN's Martin Savidge reports, it focused on the man's claims he chased Arbery in a pickup truck, struggled with him, then shot and killed him in self-defense.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Travis McMichael taking the stand in his own defense for a second day in the trial for the killing of Ahmaud Arbery.

Lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski continuing to go after him during cross examination.

LINDA DUNIKOSKI, LEAD PROSECUTOR: You also could have stepped around the back of the truck and followed him in the path that way, is that right?

TRAVIS MCMICHAEL, DEFENDANT: Yes, but then he would have had an open, unrestricted run around the truck and into my open door into my pickup truck, and to the truck.

DUNIKOSKI: You're telling this jury that a man who has spent five minutes running away from you, you're now thinking is somehow going to want to continue to engage with you, someone with a shotgun, and your father, a man who has just said "stop or I'll blow your -- head off" by trying to get in their truck?

MCMICHAEL: That's what it shows, yes, ma'am.

SAVIDGE: Also pressuring him on his self-defense claim.

DUNIKOSKI: You were right there and you just pulled that trigger immediately.

MCMICHAEL: No. I was struck and he was, we were face to face and being struck and that is when I shot. He started striking. He was on me. He had (INAUDIBLE) something to that point, and I had the gun and too close to draw on him.

DUNIKOSKI: He is striking you. You've got the gun up in this thing, and you can't draw down on him and it's just a struggle and he's on you and you're going back and forth in front of the truck? Is that what you're saying?


SAVIDGE: And the prosecutor calling out his and his father's alleged intent to make a citizens arrest.

DUNIKOSKI: During your statement to the police, did you say that you and your father were trying to arrest Mr. Arbery? Did you?

MCMICHAEL: No, ma'am.

SAVIDGE: Outside the courtroom, Pastors Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Jamal Bryant, Martin Luther King III, and Attorneys Ben Crump and Lee Merritt joining the Arbery family for a prayer vigil, an event organized by the Reverend Al Sharpton.

Also today, Kevin Gough, attorney for Roddie Bryan Jr. saying his client will not testify in his own defense.

KEVIN GOUGH, ATTORNEY FOR WILLIAM "RODDIE" BRYAN JR.: Mr. Bryant has no intention of testifying at the trial of this case. If the state wants the testimony of Mr. Bryan, they can dismiss the indictment in this case against him with prejudice as to all counts. Then there would be something to talk about.

SAVIDGE: And for a third time, he was denied when calling the Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson to be kept out of the courtroom.

Judge Walmsley once again denying the motion.


And later on, Gough objecting to this question from the state.

LARISSA OLLIVIERRE, STATE PROSECUTOR: Do you believe that someone stealing is deserving of the death penalty?

GOUGH: Irrelevance, Your Honor.

SAVIDGE: Gough calling for a mistrial.

GOUGH: Given all the time that we've put into this trial --

SAVIDGE: It was denied but Judge Walmsley admonished the prosecutor and instructed the jury to disregard the question.


SAVIDGE (on camera): And now, we're hearing from inside the courtroom that the defense teams for Gregory and Travis McMichael are resting, but as you know, this is a complicated case with three defense teams. There is still the representative for William "Roddie" Bryan Jr., Kevin Gough, to declare what exactly he will do or if he intends to call any witnesses. We're waiting to hear -- Pamela.

BROWN: All right. Martin Savidge, thank you.

And now, let's go to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where jurors are nearing the end of a third full day of deliberations in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial.

CNN's Sara Sidner is live at the courthouse.

So, Sara, as we await the jury's verdict, we're also expecting a big decision from the judge on whether or not to declare a mistrial. Where does that stand?

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. There are actually two mistrial motions that the defense says they are going to enter and have already entered one for prosecutorial overreach and the second one is about this drone video that they say was not given to them in the full resolution that they deserved to have it in. So far we have not heard from the judge as to how he is going to rule on those two requests for mistrial.

Let's look at this video. This is specific video that the jury has asked to see. This is also the video that the mistrial -- they're talking about using to call for a mistrial. What you see in this video, and we have it fast motion there for you. We also have it slow motion for you. If you look in the middle of your screen you will see Kyle Rittenhouse turn and shoot at Joseph Rosenbaum. That was the first person that he shot and killed that night.

Now, earlier you see him lift the weapon to and towards Rosenbaum as Rosenbaum is coming after him. The question here is whether or not that is considered a provocation, something that you can't do if you're going to claim self-defense.

And so, as we look at this video, the jury has asked to see this video and they did go over it yesterday. That video, though, is in an argument with the defense. The defense saying, look, we got this video but it was a low resolution version. The prosecution had a high resolution version they did not hand over in a timely manner. Although the prosecution said, look, we handed over what we thought was the high resolution version to you. There have been some mistakes in this case.

The judge very annoyed about it but saying I'm going to let it in for now. He says everything is okay with this video and it is proper and correct. It is fine. If there is something different about this video, then the judge says that is going to be a huge problem -- Pam.

BROWN: All right. Sara Sidner in Kenosha, Wisconsin, thank you.

Let's bring in criminal defense attorney Julie Rendelman and former prosecutor Charles Coleman Jr., who is also a civil rights attorney.

And I want to start with this breaking news just coming in out of Georgia, all three defense attorneys rested their cases with only one of the defendants taking the stand on that.

What do you think about this, Charles?

CHARLES COLEMAN JR., FORMER PROSECUTOR: Well, I think this is a calculated move by the defense ultimately what they're trying to do is force the prosecution to prove its case. When it came down to the cross examination we saw today of Travis McMichael, the prosecution did a really, really good job in terms of shifting the tone.

Yesterday, when we saw Travis McMichael testify his tone was extremely casual and conversational. In fact, if you weren't paying attention to what was actually going on you would have no way of realizing he was on trial for murder. I think that after the prosecution had this opportunity to cross examine Mr. McMichael today and did so very effectively in terms of really making the jury understand a lot of what Mr. McMichael was assessing and alleging on the stand simply didn't make sense. I think the rest of the defense figured, you know what? It may not be best for our clients to testify. Let's go with what we have and assume the prosecution may not be able to prove its burden beyond a reasonable doubt. While it does not surprise me entirely, it is going to be up to this prosecution now to truly sell its case to the jury on summation.

BROWN: And, Julie, an alleged citizens arrest is really at the crux of this trial. Travis McMichael testifying today that he never told police or Arbery that this was a citizens arrest. How much of a problem is that for the defense?

JULIE RENDELMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Yeah, this is something the prosecution has focused on, you know, the argument is why didn't he announce it, why didn't he say something, why didn't he say something to the police when they got there?

And here's the thing -- it's not totally unusual that someone doesn't necessarily announce their intentions.


But intentions can be assumed by some of your actions.

I think the bigger issue that comes down to it is the definition of citizens arrest. It doesn't seem based on the evidence that Travis McMichael had the necessary information to even engage in, quote- unquote, a citizens arrest. I think the prosecution did an absolutely beautiful job just like Charles was talking about of basically leading him, similar to what Travis McMichael's father allegedly said, which is they boxed in Arbery like a rat. I think she did that to him today by basically cornering him and saying, there were a million, a million options you could have taken other than getting out of that car. Instead, you chose to get out of the car with that gun. That is why we're here today.

BROWN: Let's take a listen to a little bit of that exchange. Here it is.


DUNIKOSKI: You could have easily just stepped back to your pickup truck and watched him keep going, right?

MCMICHAEL: I could have, yes.

DUNIKOSKI: So, you're telling this jury that a man who has spent five minutes running away from you, you're now thinking is somehow going to want to continue to engage with you, someone with a shotgun, and your father, a man who's just said, stop or I'll blow your -- head off by trying to get in their truck?

MCMICHAEL: That's what it shows, yes, ma'am.


BROWN: So, clearly, Charles, she got key concessions there from McMichael. When you were watching that exchange, what was going through your mind?

COLEMAN: I thought it was so critically important because when Travis McMichael testified on direct, one of the things his attorney was able to do very skillfully was to elicit answers from McMichael that made it seem like his actions were completely rational and the actions of Ahmaud Arbery were irrational. What the prosecutor did on her cross examination today was that she completely reversed that and flipped that. She made it very obvious to the jury that, in fact, it was actually Mr. McMichael whose actions did not make sense with respect to the story that they want the jury to believe when everything is laid out very clearly.

This was an important cross examination and the clip that you just played was an important series of questions because it really makes it plain for the jury that actually what Mr. McMichael was originally alleging simply did not add up.

BROWN: All right. I want to turn to the Rittenhouse trial now. This is the third day of jury deliberations, still no verdict.

Julie, what do you read into that if anything?

RENDELMAN: So look. I was a prosecutor for a very long time and I've learned not to read into anything. You know, we always talk about what does a note mean, who is asking about the note? We realize that sometimes it is one juror asking a question or it's ten jurors asking a question.

Even when they ask for example for the video, we don't know what part of the video they're asking about, we don't know if they're thinking about self-defense or provocation or intent. We just don't know.

I will say, the longer the case goes on, it does seem to kind of impact kind of people's belief, is it possible we're going to walk away with a hung jury? Because the longer it takes, the more you start to think they're never going to agree with each other with regard to each and every one of these counts.

BROWN: And, Charles, the fact that the jury felt the need to review this video, might it suggest they had questions about Rittenhouse and his claims for self-defense?

COLEMAN: Oh, absolutely. I think the prosecution had challenges during its case in the presentation but did a fantastic job doing what they could with what they had on summation. One of the things that they did during that closing argument was they really hammered home this theme of provocation. They really did their best in tying in the different things they were able to get out on Kyle Rittenhouse's cross examination as well as the jury instructions from the judge around provocation, enough to really make the jury question Kyle Rittenhouse's claim of self-defense.

And I think that is a big part of what you're seeing in terms of why are you watching them review this video. I think Julie is right. It is not easy to determine what exactly they are looking at but I think a large part of the review of the video is hinging on this narrative of provocation versus victimization that we've heard from both parties.

BROWN: All right. Charles Coleman and Julie Rendelman, thank you both so much.

COLEMAN: Thanks for having me.

RENDELMAN: Thank you. BROWN: The House of Representatives could finally vote on the second part of President Biden's agenda today. We're going to talk to a leading progressive Democrat up next.

Plus, she was jailed for showing the truth about what was going on during the early days of the COVID pandemic in China. Now, her family is worried she may not survive her imprisonment.



BROWN: In our politics lead, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the House could vote today on a nearly $2 trillion bill to expand the social safety net and combat climate change. But there are several moderate Democrats who are still not convinced. And any minute, a key ruling from the Budget Office could give us insight into whether or not this bill will pass.

As CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports, President Biden is bouncing this major legislative push with the visits of two key U.S. allies.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Biden on a diplomatic mission with neighbors on both borders.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is one of the easiest relationships as an American president, one of the best.

COLLINS: The U.S. president sitting down with the leaders of Mexico and Canada today for the first time in five years.

Energy, COVID-19, climate change, and migration all potentially tense topics on the agenda.

BIDEN: There are a lot of complicating factors. We're going to talk at length about it.

COLLINS: Unlike the last eight North American leader summits, there was no formal press conference after this meeting.

On Capitol Hill, House Democrats are trying to advance the second part of Biden's economic agenda as soon as today.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: It builds back better and it builds back better for women especially.

COLLINS: Once the social spending and climate change bill passes the House, it will be in the hands of the Senate where it needs the support of all 50 Democrats.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): No, I'm still looking at everything. I'm still looking. COLLINS: Senator Bernie Sanders railing against a provision in the current bill that would increase the cap on state and local tax deductions amounting to a big tax cut for the wealthy.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): I think it's bad politics. It's bad policy. We've got to demand the wealthy start paying their fair share of taxes not give them more tax breaks.

COLLINS: The White House arguing it is in the name of compromise.

You are comfortable with it moving forward?

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Again, this is not what we proposed but this is compromise. It's in the package.

COLLINS: Meanwhile the president is taking on claims that the new bill will make inflation even worse.

BIDEN: The bills do not add inflation pressures. Let me repeat that. Do not add inflation pressures.

COLLINS: One vulnerable Democrat Arizona Senator Mark Kelly is calling on the White House to do more about high consumer prices.

SEN. MARK KELLY (D-AZ): I sent the letter to the White House just yesterday to ask the White House to address the rising cost of gasoline across the country. There are things they can do.


KELLY: That is why I sent the letter.


COLLINS: Now, Pam, this House vote on the Build Back Better agenda for the president has been months in the making but could be just hours away from it based on what Democratic leaders have said today that this could happen as soon as tonight. They can really leave nothing to chance here because they have such a small margin to get this passed. We know some moderate members are still waiting on the score from the Congressional Budget Office that House Speaker Pelosi says could come by 5:00 p.m.

BROWN: All right. We'll be watching for it. Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much.

Joining me now to discuss is Democratic Congressman Mark Pocan of Wisconsin. He's a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Thank you for coming on the show, Congressman.

We just heard in Kaitlan's report she laid it out. It is a slim margin. You can only lose three Democrats in the House to pass this bill. An aide tells CNN Democratic Congressman Jared Golden has not decided whether to support it because of something he doesn't like in the bill. At least two others are waiting to see the estimates from the Budget Office.

Simply put, do you have the votes?

REP. MARK POCAN (D-WI): Yeah. Well, Pam, thanks for having me on.

I think we do. I have talked to a number of these folks who were concerned we talked to a few weeks ago. And, you know, they are very sincere and also acknowledge that everything they've been told is they've talked to the CBO over the last several weeks is pointing to the dollars being very close or exactly on in some areas to what we were saying and I think you're going to find all the Democrats hopefully tonight if not tomorrow voting on this bill.

You know, these are Democratic values, things like child care, and the family and medical leave, and making sure seniors are spending less on prescription drugs, so many of the things in this bill are going to be easy to unite us. While there certainly may be parts of the bill that different people don't like I think we'll all be unified in supporting this agenda of Joe Biden's.

BROWN: And the bill includes paid family leave but the Senate version likely won't because of Senator Joe Manchin's objections. If this bill comes back to the House without paid family leave, will you support it?

POCAN: Yeah. I mean, we'll see what Joe Manchin does. A lot of this bill because of the conversations that were held up on the infrastructure bill thanks to the progressive caucus, about 95 percent of the bill is preclearance. People have already agreed to. It is really just a few remaining things.

So, there is a lot that is solid in this bill, a lot that will benefit families across the country. What winds up coming back from the Senate, we'll have a conversation at that point. Where there is unity I think one of the most important provisions is this child care provision and everyone is in support of that. That is a huge lift for so many American families. They're going to literally save thousands and thousands of dollars that can go towards vacations and college funds and just things like clothing.

It is going to be really a big improvement in people's lives. I think all Democrats are unified on those matters.

BROWN: The reality is when it comes to paid family leave, the U.S. is the only industrialized country without paid family leave. Manchin has said it doesn't belong in this bill but the stand alone bill.

Is there a back-up plan in place to pass paid family leave maybe in a standalone bill?

POCAN: Well, it would be good if he'd answer us directly if he would support that. If we have a standalone bill it would still need his support as well as many others.

But, you know, I think it is an important provision. You're right. We are an outlier in Western countries that don't have that. I would hope we'll keep this in the bill and be able to persuade Senator Manchin and anyone else when it comes to the Senate, these are good provisions.

But there is a lot here that's going to benefit the American people. Don't forget, there is a tax cut for 40 million American families in this bill and I don't think anyone is going to want to say no to that many people

BROWN: I do want to talk about another major hurdle in getting this through the Senate, because that is a reality for you. That is the fight over a Medicare expansion.


Senator Bernie Sanders previously said it was nonnegotiable, that a Medicare expansion must be included. But Senator Joe Manchin firmly opposes it.

Are you worried the push to get more items in the bill could doom it?

POCAN: Well, there will be some, right? I think there is some agreement around hearing and we're hoping that that's something the Senate will keep in there. Obviously, Senator Sanders and I completely agree. We wanted dental, vision, and hearing because they are all health concerns that seniors had that didn't make the original package for Medicare that I think is as much health care as anything else.

But we'll hopefully see where we get when we pass it out of the House. I think when we have a big vote out of the House, hopefully it send a message to senators as well that there is large support to get this done. I think more constituents will understand what is in the bill and that will also help us get it done in the Senate.

BROWN: I want to ask you before we let you go, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy suggested if Republicans win back the House next year, they may retaliate against Democrats for removing Republicans Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar from their committees. Are you worried at all about that?

POCAN: I don't think we'll have members that will try to kill people on videos or anything else like we've seen from the Republicans this session. So, you know, should that happen, I think they also should be censured.

But, you know, I think just kind of looking the other way, this is all a culmination unfortunately of four years of Donald Trump really brewing hate across this country. We can't let members of Congress who have to work together continue this behavior.

So, I think we took the right action yesterday. I wish more Republicans would have stood up and showed they had a spine to do the right thing. But I think the American people understand you can't put yourself in a video killing one of your colleagues. Any other job you'd be booted.

BROWN: Democratic Congressman Mark Pocan, thank you for your time. POCAN: Thank you.

BROWN: And up next, new revelations about the stunning document that purported to tie Donald Trump to Russia with some salacious allegations.



PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: In our politics lead, new revelations are sparking fresh scrutiny over a controversial document known as the Steele dossier nearly five years after it first made headlines. Written by a retired British spy, it was full of explosive and alarming claims about then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and his campaign's alleged ties to Russia. But now, we know more about who was behind it. We decided to take another look at what ultimately became an unreliable partisan-backed political memo that got a lot wrong.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: It didn't happen. And it was gotten by opponents of ours.

BROWN (voice-over): Nearly five years since the Steele dossier first emerged publicly, federal prosecutors have laid out a clearer picture of the role well-connected Democratic insiders played in the narrative surrounding Donald Trump's ties to Russia. Two special counsel investigations, numerous congressional inquiries, and an internal review by the Justice Department giving weight to suspicions that the so-called Steele dossier was used by some Democrats as a political weapon against Trump.

TRUMP: It was a group of opponents who got together, sick people, and they put that crap together.

BROWN: An ongoing probe by special counsel John Durham investigating the FBI's 2016 Russia probe is pulling back the curtain on some flimsy and potentially biased sourcing in the dossier that was put together by former British spy Christopher Steele. Steele has defended his work, telling ABC News in a recent tell-all interview it was raw intelligence that needed further vetting but his sources were solid.

CHRISTOPHER STEELE, FORMER BRITISH SPY: There wasn't one key source I would say. There was perhaps one key collector.

BROWN: But Durham now says the collector was not a deep seeded Kremlin source but a Russian citizen living in Virginia, Igor Danchenko. He now faces charges for lying to the FBI in interviews about where he got information that ended up in the dossier.

Prosecutors say some of the information Danchenko fed to Steele came directly from a long time Democratic operative Charles Dolan, identified as PR executive 1. An attorney for Dolan acknowledged his client is the person referenced in the Danchenko indictment. Dolan has expertise in Russian affairs and a long-time relationship

with the Clintons, serving as an adviser to Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign. State chairman for both of Bill Clinton's presidential campaigns and named to a State Department advisory post by the former president.

CHARLES DOLAN, DEMOCRATIC OPERATIVE: Four things this commission has been arguing for over the last eight years.

BROWN: Dolan, who was not accused of any crimes, is indirectly tied to multiple allegations in the dossier according to a court filing. One claim was about infighting in the Trump campaign when Paul Manafort resigned. According to prosecutors, Dolan lied to Danchenko about where he got the information, appearing in the dossier as coming from a GOP friend who was allegedly a close associate of Trump.

Durham says Dolan was indirectly linked to multiple claims in the dossier surrounding Putin and officials in the Russian government including information about Putin firing an adviser for insisting Russia would receive no blowback for its role in meddling in the U.S. election.


Durham also indirectly connects Dolan to a separate, unverified claim that a Russian diplomat in the U.S. was recalled to avoid exposure over election interference.

TRUMP: When I leave our country I am a very high profile person would you say? I am extremely careful.

BROWN: Danchenko's indictment indirectly associates Dolan to one of the most salacious accusations. The infamous pee tape of Trump and prostitutes inside a Russian hotel. The indictment suggests in June 2016, Danchenko used basic information learned by Dolan about Trump staying in the hotel suite. Dolan toured the same suite but allegedly wasn't told the fantastical details, which have never proven true. It is still not clear where the salacious details originated.

TRUMP: Does anyone believe that story? I am also very much of a germophobe by the way. Believe me.

BROWN: And in one case, prosecutors say Danchenko made up a conversation with a c source, falsely claiming he was in association with a Belarusian American businessman, Sergei Millian. A court filings say Danchenko attributed two of the dossier's most explosive claims to Millian, that there was a conspiracy of cooperation between the Trump campaign and Russian officials and that that Russians had kompromat on Donald Trump.

The indictment notes Millian asserts he never met or communicated with Danchenko.

Contacted by CNN, Millian said in a statement this fraud destroyed my health, life, businesses, and turned my American dream into a nightmare. REPORTER: Were you working for Russia?

BROWN: Danchenko has pleaded not guilty to charges he lied to the FBI and his attorney says the case is pushing a, quote, false narrative designed to slander a renowned expert in business intelligence for political game.

Separately, Durham also charged Attorney Michael Sussman for allegedly not revealing to the FBI he was working for the Clinton campaign when he provided the FBI with information about strange cyber activity between a Russian bank and the Trump organization. Sussman worked for the same law firm that helped arrange the dossier, Perkins Coie. The Clinton campaign paid Perkins Coie who then hired a research company Fusion GPS who then hired Steele. Steele's firm received $168,000 to find what it could on Russia's involvement in the 2016 election and ties to Donald Trump and his campaign.

President Trump's then Attorney General William Barr tapped Durham to lead the investigation into the FBI's Russia probe known as Crossfire Hurricane.

WILLIAM BARR, THEN-ATTORNEY GENERAL: Some of the facts that I've learned don't hang together with the official explanations of what happened.

BROWN: Trump did show an openness as a candidate and businessman to receive favor and business from Russia. There have been dozens of proven contacts revealed between Trump campaign associates and Russian nationals.

Still, none of it added up to the collusion suggested in the Steele memos. His probe looking for exactly that, Special Counsel Robert Mueller could not establish a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russian actors.

ROBERT MUELLER, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL: We focused on whether the evidence was sufficient to charge any member of the campaign with taking part in a criminal conspiracy. And it was not.

BROWN: Though few of the underlying assertions proved true, Steele's big picture takeaways about Russian meddling were similar to the eventual findings by the U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia did interfere in the 2016 presidential election with an aim to elect Donald Trump.

JAMES CLAPPER, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: The goals of this campaign were to undermine public faith in the U.S. Democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. Putin and the Russian government also developed a clear preference for president-elect Trump.

BROWN: Steele declined to comment to CNN but told ABC while some of the specific details were off, several of the main pieces were not.

STEELE: I highlighted the threat that authoritarian regimes posed to democracy and it still is a great threat to democracy and to our way of life.

TRUMP: I think it is very sad what they've done with this fake dossier.

BROWN: While Donald Trump bitterly complained about the dossier, others were swept up in it.

CARTER PAGE, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: The dodgy dossier began with the false allegations about me.

BROWN: The FBI used references in the dossier to monitor Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser, as part of their application to get a wiretap on him in October, 2016.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: U.S. officials tell CNN last year, the FBI used a dossier of allegations of Russian ties to Donald Trump's campaign as part of the justification to get approval to secretly monitor Trump associate Carter Page.

BROWN: As part of his inspector general review, Michael Horowitz determined the FBI couldn't confirm any serious claims from the dossier about Page. Just last year, the DOJ declared two of the FISA warrants against him to be invalid.


MICHAEL HOROWITZ, DOJ INSPECTOR GENERAL: I think the activities we found here don't vindicate anybody who touched this.

BROWN: And one of the dossier's most notorious unproven claims a potential smoking gun for collusion, allegations of a secret trip to Prague by Trump's then personal attorney Michael Cohen were not true, according to the inspector general.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you ever been to Prague?



COHEN: I've never been to the Czech Republic.

BROWN: Speaking with ABC, Steele remarkably still stands behind it.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: Since he is going to prison, since he's turned on President Trump, he has told every single story. Why wouldn't he admit to this?

STEELE: Because I think it is so incriminating and demeaning and he might be scared of the consequences.

BROWN: The FBI had prior trust in Steele's reputation from working with him in a hig profile corruption case.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: It was raw intelligence, a series of reports from a credible person with a reliable track record and a known experienced and sourced network in Russia so it was something to be taken seriously.

BROWN: But his work on the dossier did not hold up to official scrutiny. FBI intelligence analysts worked to verify all of the dossier's allegations, creating a spread sheet identifying each statement that appeared in the Steele election reports to have a record of what the FBI learned.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: We should be clear that CNN has not confirmed the content of the calls.

BROWN: In February, 2017, CNN reported that investigators were able to confirm the time, place, and people involved in some of the conversations between foreign nationals. Two years later, the IG review found certain allegations were inaccurate or inconsistent with what the FBI investigation gathered.

And the bits that were corroborated were based largely on publicly available information like titles, dates, and locations.

Despite Trump and his allies claiming otherwise the inspector general's main conclusion was that even though the FBI misused the dossier to renew FISA warrants against Carter Page, it was justified in its investigation of the Trump campaign.

And concluded the dossier had nothing to do with the FBI's investigation.

HOROWITZ: We found that Crossfire Hurricane was open for an authorized, investigative purpose and with sufficient factual predication.

BROWN: Once special counsel Robert Mueller took over, the dossier was essentially ignored in the final report.

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): Did Russians really tell that to Christopher Steele or did he make it all up and was he lying to the FBI?

MUELLER: Let me back up a second if I could and say as I said earlier, with regard to the Steele -- that is beyond my purview.


BROWN: Steele and his company Orbis Business Intelligence declined CNN's repeated requests for an interview.

I want to bring in our senior justice correspondent Evan Perez.

So, all of this raises the question, Evan, what is Durham trying to show with these indictments?

PEREZ: Well, what you see in the two recent indictments Durham has brought is he is sketching out this idea of a broader conspiracy that the former president, President Trump, as he complained for years, was essentially the victim of a smear that was carried out by everyone from Clinton campaign operatives, people in Democratic Party, this law firm that works for Democrats, trying to get the FBI to investigate Donald Trump and his campaign and leaking that information to the media.

Now, this is the world of opposition research, right? That is the way it works here in Washington. And very often this is the way stories get planted. It is not necessarily illegal. In this case, Durham says that there were crimes committed and so now he has brought charges against the former Clinton campaign lawyer who worked for Perkins to try to prove some of these points.

BROWN: Durham is not done. Where is he going with this?

PEREZ: Well, we don't know whether he's got additional charges. He certainly has more subpoenas against additional folks. One of the things that we learned earlier on, I mean, this is in December of 2019 when the inspector general came out with his findings of wrongdoing by the FBI, one of the things that Horowitz found that was key, he said that the FBI investigation was properly predicated meaning they had reason to investigate the Trump campaign. In a very unusual move at the time, Durham put out a statement saying that he disagreed with that conclusion.

So we know that from the beginning Durham has had his doubts about whether there should have been ever a Trump/Russia investigation. Of course we know the FBI opened this and had other reasons for investigating the former president and his campaign.

BROWN: All right. Evan Perez, thanks so much.

Well, she alerted the world about COVID before it became a pandemic and for that China made her pay.


Why she is not only behind bars but is now struggling to stay alive, up next.


BROWN: In our world lead, the Chinese citizen journalist who documented Wuhan under lockdown in early 2020 has been awarded the prize for courage at the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Awards.

A bittersweet moment as she remains jailed on a hunger strike for telling the truth. Now CNN's David Culver reports her family is waiting to hear if Chinese officials will release her for medical reasons.



DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Traveling alone to the original epicenter in the height of China's COVID-19 outbreak last year, she documented the plight of Wuhan residents under a brutal lockdown. For that, 38-year-old Zhang Zhan has been languishing behind bars for

18 months. Now on a hunger strike and on the brink of death, her family and lawyer filing a petition for medical parole in the hope of saving her life.

In early February 2020, Zhang Zhan, a lawyer-turned-activist highlighted harsh realities on the ground. She posted more than 100 clips on YouTube showing hospitals flooded with desperate patients and shops empty.

ZHANG ZHAN, JAILED CITIZEN JOURNALIST (through translator): Maybe I have a rebellious soul. Why can't I film that? I was just documenting the truth. Why can't I show the truth?

CULVER: In May of last year, authorities from Shanghai detained Zhang, then putting her on trial for picking quarrels and provoking trouble, a charge often used to silence government critics.

According to the verdict seen by CNN, officials accused her of recklessly fabricating and spreading content that distorted the coronavirus control measures in Wuhan and for seriously disturbing the public order.

Last December, a court sentenced her to four years in prison. Family members say Zhang went on a hunger strike soon after her arrest. Her condition in jail rapidly deteriorating. Authorities even forced to put in a feeding tube.

The 5'10" journalist now weighing less than 88 pounds. A skeleton of her former self. On Twitter her brother posted, she may not survive the coming cold winter.

Zhang not the only one targeted for trying to expose the realities in Wuhan.

Chen Qiushi, another lawyer who posted videos critical of the authority's early mishandlings, disappeared for more than a year, only recently resurfacing in public. Chen Mei and Cai Wei jailed for 15 month after they archived news reports of the Wuhan outbreak that had been censored. Others like Fang Bin who uploaded the video of body bags in a Wuhan hospital have simply vanished from public view.

Also silenced numerous whistle-blowers. The most famous? Dr. Li Wenliang. Police reprimanded him for spreading rumors when he first tried to tell friends and colleagues about the then mystery illness. His eventual death from COVID made him a martyr in China, with a government begrudgingly embracing him as a hero.

To counter all the critical voices, the propaganda czars later even deployed more than 300 state media journalists to Wuhan, pulling out all the stops to reclaim the narrative, an effort that has continued to this day, as state media breathlessly cover other countries' COVID debacles and conspiracy theories on the virus origins, trying to sow doubt and deflect blame.

As for Zhang Zhan, she has never wavered in believing her own innocence with her lawyer telling CNN --

ZHANG KEKE, ZHANG ZHAN'S LAWYER (through translator): She told me she thinks her arrest, prosecution, trial, and detention were unlawful and only by going on a hunger strike did she feel she could express her frustrations.

CULVER: A desperate call for attention on China's growing intolerance for unfiltered information.


CULVER (on camera): We did reach out to Zhang's family to see if they wanted to comment on record. They declined our request for an interview. They say they don't want to anger the government any further so as to potentially worsen the situation -- Pamela.

BROWN: David Culver, thank you.

And on Sunday, join Fareed Zakaria for an in-depth look at China's Leader Xi Jinping. "China's Iron Fist: Xi Jinping" and the stakes for America" airs Sunday night at 9:00.

Well, he had the support of celebrities like Kim Kardashian and now, hours before he was set to be executed, Julius Jones has been granted clemency. That story, next.



BROWN: In our national lead, Oklahoma's Republican Governor Kevin Stitt spared the life of high profile inmate Julius Jones just hours before he was scheduled to be executed. The governor said Jones' sentence will be commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Jones was on death row for nearly 20 years in connection to the 1999 murder of Paul Howell. He and high profile names such as Kim Kardashian West and Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield have maintained he was wrongly convicted. Jones' attorney says that they are, quote, grateful the governor has prevented an irreparable mistake.

Also in our national lead, two men convicted in the 1965 assassination of Malcolm X are exonerated today after nearly a half century and recent two-year investigation by the Manhattan D.A.

For decades, Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam insisted they were innocent and the man who confessed to killing the civil rights icon told authorities at the time Aziz and Islam were not involved. Still, all three men were sentenced to life in prison.

The New York's D.A.'s office re-examined the case after a Netflix documentary series called "Who Killed Malcolm X?" began to raise more questions than answers. And what investigators found was that both the FBI and NYPD withheld information that could have cleared the two men during their trial.

Khalil Islam died in 2009. Muhammad Aziz is now 83 years old.

I'm Pamela Brown, in for Jake Tapper today. You can follow me on twitter @pamelabrownCNN or tweet the show @TheLeadCNN.

Our coverage continues with Wolf Blitzer and "THE SITUATION ROOM".