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Jury to Present Their Deliberations; Three Verdicts Expected Before Thanksgiving; Jury Charge the Unite the Group with $26 Million for Damages; Right Wing Groups Facing Consequences for Their Actions; President Biden Trying to Ease Gas Crisis. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired November 24, 2021 - 03:00   ET




ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR (on camera): Hello, and welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world. You are watching CNN Newsroom. And I'm Rosemary Church.

Ahead, we are just hours away from day two of deliberations in the trial of three men accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, and the jurors will be considering this.


LINDA DUNIKOSKI, LEAD PROSECUTOR: Do you really believe he had no other choice but to use his shotgun?


CHURCH (on camera): Plus, the white supremacist organizers of this deadly rally in Charlottesville are found liable and ordered to pay millions of dollars. But will the plaintiffs actually be able to collect?

And with gas prices soaring, president Biden is making moves to try to ease the pain, but many experts say it's just a drop in the bucket.

UNKNOWN: Live from CNN center, this is CNN Newsroom with Rosemary Church.

CHURCH: We are waiting for jurors in Georgia to decide the case against three white men accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed Black man. They deliberated for more than six hours yesterday. The last argument they heard came from the prosecution who used their rebuttal on Tuesday to remind the nearly all-white jury about the racial implications of the murder case.

CNN's Sara Sidner has more now from Brunswick.


DUNIKOSKI: When three people chase an unarmed man in two pickup trucks with guns in order to violate his personal liberty, who gets to claim, I'm not really responsible for that? Under the law in Georgia, no one gets to say that.

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The prosecution getting the last word in the murder trial of three men for the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. Arbery was jogging in February of 2020 when he was chased down by Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael, and William Bryan, Jr. in their trucks.

The men's defense, they thought Arbery had committed burglary, and they were planning to make a citizen's arrest. But Travis McMichael ended up shooting Arbery to death.

DUNIKOSKI: Where's the empathy? How about don't bring a shotgun with you? This is really easy. Call the police.

SIDNER: The prosecutor said the men didn't bother to wait for police, only making this 911 call after they were chasing Arbery for an alleged crime they never witnessed.

UNKNOWN: I'm not here (Inaudible). There's a Black male running down the street.

DUNIKOSKI: What's your emergency? There's a black man running down the street.

SIDNER: It turned out Arbery had not committed a burglary.

DUNIKOSKI: They wanted it to be a burglary, so that's a felony. So from that felony that he committed a burglary they can chase him down.

SIDNER: The burden is on the prosecution to prove the nine charges against each defendant beyond a reasonable doubt, including aggravated assault and murder. The defense interrupted the prosecution's argument several times. Each time calling for a mistrial over the prosecutor's interpretation of the law for the jury.

UNKNOWN: You can't argue a misstatement of the law.


SIDNER: In closing arguments Monday, the defense went after Arbery's actions and his character. They referred to video taken off Arbery wandering inside a home construction site months before he was killed.

LAURA HOGUE, GREGORY MCMICHAEL'S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: He was a recurring nighttime intruder.

SIDNER: One defense attorney went after the dead 25-year-old's appearance.

HOGUE: In his khaki shorts with no socks to cover his long, dirty toenails.

SIDNER: Her comments caused gasps in the court and Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, rushed out of court in horror. The prosecution calling out the defense's move to disparage a victim. DUNIKOSKI: Malign the victim. It's the victim's fault. I know you're

not going to buy into that. It's offensive.


SIDNER (on camera): Now the jury began its deliberations and had gone about six hours before the judge called them in and asked them if they were close potentially to a verdict. And one of the jurors we heard for the first time from the foreperson, who said we are in the process of working to reach a verdict.

With that, though, there was another pause, and the jury was sent home for the night, expected to show up Wednesday morning bright and early to start again.

Sara Sidner, CNN, Brunswick, Georgia.

CHURCH: I want to bring in Charles F. Coleman, Jr. now. He is a civil rights attorney and former New York prosecutor.


Thank you so much for being with us.


CHURCH: So, we heard closing arguments Monday from the defense and prosecution, and now the jury is preparing to start a second day of deliberations. How might they have been impacted, do you think, by those closing arguments, and which side appeared stronger?

COLEMAN: Well, I think the prosecution did what it needed to do in terms of rebutting some of the defense and their theory of the case in terms of what they were trying to argue around self-defense.

I think they did a really good job of walking the jury through the judge's charges, what each of the defendants are going to be charged with, and they should feel ultimately very good about the position that they're in.

The defense, on the other hand did what they could with what they had, which wasn't much quite frankly. What I found to be notable on that side was that, the attorney for William Bryan began to point the finger at the other defendants, which ultimately is not a good sign when you have multiple defendants in a case.

My experience is when you start to see that happen, and juries generally are going to convict everyone. Now, of course, we don't know whether that will be the case here as it remains to be seen. But one of the things that I noticed during the summations from both sides was that was something that started to happen, which began to show some of the cracks on the ranks, on the defendants' side.

CHURCH: Right. I did want to ask you about that because I wonder how possible it is that the jury will hand down three different verdicts for each of the three white men accused of chasing and killing Ahmaud Arbery.

COLEMAN: Well, it is certainly possible under a legal framework without a question because each of the three defendants is charged with something different, and each of them has a different set of standards that they have to meet or that has to be proven in order to convict -- in order to convict them.

I don't think that they are going to split themselves on the McMichael's, meaning the father and the son. I think if there is a split among the defendants, it's going to be between the McMichael's and Mr. Bryan. But I don't necessarily believe that they would convict Travis and acquit George and acquit Mr. Bryan.

But I do want viewers to know that that is something that could actually happen in terms of one of them or two of them being convicted and another one going free or being acquitted and vice versa.

CHURCH: And of course, the recent Kyle Rittenhouse case also dealt with vigilante justice versus self-defense. And in that case, Rittenhouse was acquitted on all charges. This situation, however, is very different. How do you expect this to turn out?

COLEMAN: Well, if the law is followed and the prosecutors' words are heeded, then I would expect a conviction of all three defendants in this case. This is a very different case than the Kyle Rittenhouse case for a number of different reasons.

I think that the argument around provocation is significantly greater in this case than it was in the Rittenhouse case, such that I don't believe that the defendants are going to be able to rely on it in the same ways that Kyle Rittenhouse relied on it and ultimately resulted in an acquittal.

And so, I don't necessarily anticipate that these individuals will not be convicted. However, there are very, very unpredictable things that happen when you're talking about a jury in a jury trial. So, nothing is certain until the verdict is rendered. So, we'll have to see what happens.

CHURCH: And I did want to ask you this too. I wondered how disturbed you were by one of the defense lawyers referring to Arbery's toenails as she tried to paint him as a criminal, and how do you think that will likely play with the jury?

COLEMAN: Well, she didn't just try to paint him as a criminal. Let's be clear about that. What she tried to do was paint him as a runaway slave, and I think that what we are seeing from not only her but other defense attorneys in this case, specifically Kevin Gough, who is the defense attorney for Mr. William Bryan, we've seen an unparalleled and unprecedented level of just blatant racism coming from the defense in this case.

The only thing that I can think of is that they believe that that is going to resonate given the geographic location of where this trial is being held, in the deep south, and the demographics of the jury in terms of its makeup, that being 11 white jurors and 1 black, that they're hoping there's somebody who is going to latch on to the sort of racist rhetoric that they're spouting and potentially prevent their clients from being convicted.

Hopefully we won't see that happen, but that sort of rhetoric and using racism as a legal strategy is just an aberration and something that I hope not to see continue.

CHURCH: And do you expect a verdict Wednesday?

COLEMAN: I do expect a very quick verdict. A Wednesday verdict would not surprise me. I do hope that the jury is doing its job by considering all the fact and they've paid attention and that they are giving all of the charges and the defendants just and due consideration because that's what our legal system commands.


However, I do think that this is also a very straightforward case in many regards, and hopefully a quick verdict will be a sign that justice -- that there is an attempt to have justice for Ahmaud Arbery.

CHURCH: Charles F. Coleman, Jr., thank you so much for talking with us. I appreciate it.

COLEMAN: No problem.

CHURCH: A federal jury has found the white nationalists who organized a violent demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia four years ago liable for more than $26 million in damages. The Unite the Right rally became a new front in America's culture wars, and it empowered white supremacists to loudly broadcast their beliefs in public instead of just online.

Half of the punitive damages awarded were against James Fields, who sped his car through a crowd of counter protesters, killing one of them.

Brian Todd has more.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The jury awarded the plaintiffs in the Unite the Right trial more than $26 million in compensatory and punitive damages on several claims. Among them, finding five defendants were liable for racial, religious, or ethnic harassment or violence under a Virginia state law and that all the defendants participated in a conspiracy.

ROBERTA KAPLAN, ATTORNEY FOR PLAINTIFFS: I think this verdict today is a message that this country does not tolerate violence based on racial and religious hatred in any form.

TODD: In addition, James Alex Fields Jr., the driver of the car that plowed into the crowd of counter protesters, killing one and injuring dozens, was found liable for more than $12 million for assault or battery and for inflicting emotional distress. UNKNOWN: There's going to be accountability for the people who did


TODD: More than half of the damages against Fields. The rest spread among various defendants from the white nationalist movement.

UNKNOWN: The defendants in the case are destitute. None of them have any money. I don't know how any of the plaintiffs are going to get anything for any of this.

TODD: The jury was deadlocked on the first two claims, that organizers conspired to commit racial violence or failed to prevent it. The evident included victim testimony about the injuries they sustained from brawling at the rally and Fields' car that rammed through the crowd.

And private communications allegedly showing organizers discussing the potential for violence, quote, "cracking skulls" and even whether it's legal to drive into protesters.

CROWD: LEMON: Jews will not replace us!

TODD: But the defendants said they didn't plan the violence. It wasn't their fault, and that what they said before the rally was hyperbole and is protected free speech. The damages awarded by the jury mean a judgment against some of America's most notorious white nationalists, including Richard Spencer, Jason Kessler, and Christopher Cantwell.

The damages will go to the plaintiffs, who include some of those most severely injured in the car ramming and the brawling.

JAMES KOLENICH, JASON KESSLER'S ATTORNEY: I think we did a decent job on the defense side cutting the damages down to size even though it is many millions of dollars.

TODD: This civil trial and effort by activists to financially cripple the white nationalist movement.

MICAH SCHWARTZMAN, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA SCHOOL OF LAW: It sets a precedent, which is that if you conspire to commit violent acts, especially on racial grounds, you should expect that plaintiffs will file suit against you under these federal and state laws in the future. So, the trial in that way is a deterrent against future white supremacist conduct of the kind we saw in Charlottesville in August 2017.


TODD (on camera): Two attorneys for white nationalists told us after the verdict that they're going to try to get the damage assessments against their clients reduced. This and other similar lawsuits have already succeeded in financially crippling some white supremacists but it's not over for them.

Regarding those two counts that the jury was not able to reach verdicts on, those federal counts of conspiracy to commit racially motivated violence, the plaintiff's attorneys say they're going to try to get those cases brought again.

Brian Todd, CNN, Charlottesville, Virginia.

CHURCH: The suspect in the Wisconsin Christmas parade rampage is expected to face another charge now that a sixth victim, a child, has died. Darrell Brooks made his first court appearance Tuesday. His bail is set at $5 million. He is currently charged with five counts of first-degree intentional homicide.

Eight-year-old Jackson Sparks died Tuesday. He was one of 16 children admitted to the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin. His older brother was also injured in the attack.

Court documents show more than 60 people were injured when an SUV rammed through the parade on Sunday.

The committee investigating the January 6th insurrection at the U.S. Capitol has issued a new round of subpoenas, this time targeting right-wing extremist groups involved in the riot. They include the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers as CNN's Ryan Nobles reports.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight, the web of inquiry for the January 6th select committee continues to spread out. The committee has now issued a total of 45 subpoenas. The latest, a brand-new group targeting right-wing extremist groups who were involved in the riots.


The committee asking for information from two far-right groups, the Proud Boys and their former chairman Henry Enrique Tarrio, as well as the Oath Keepers and their president, Elmer Stewart Rhodes. Also subpoenaed, Robert Patrick Lewis, chairman of the fringe militia group with connections to QAnon, the 1st Amendment Praetorian which provided security on that day.

REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): Expect each of these individuals to show up, tell us the truth, and help us uncover all of the facts.

NOBLES: On Monday, the committee handed down five new subpoenas focused on key players in the rallies leading up to January 6th. The two high-profile targets, conservative provocateurs Alex Jones and Roger Stone.

The infamous duo has a longstanding relationship with Donald Trump and fanned the flames of misinformation about the 2020 election leading up to January 6th. Jones promising chaos during the certification of the Electoral College results the day before.

ALEX JONES, FOUNDER, INFOWARS: I don't know how all this is going to end, but if they want to fight, they better believe they've got one.

NOBLES: Jones and Stone both already forecasting that they won't give the committee what they're looking for.

ROGER STONE, REPUBLICAN OPERATIVE: As one who was framed for lying to Congress, I would probably assert my fifth amendment right and decline to be interviewed.

NOBLES: While the committee continues its push to get witnesses to hand over documents and provide interviews, it's also battling in the courts to get access to hundreds of documents from the Trump White House. Trump's legal team continues to contend the information should be kept secret under executive privilege.

The committee's lawyers evoking Shakespeare to make their argument. Any inquiry that did not insist on examining Mr. Trump's documents and communications would be worse than useless. The equivalent of staging a production of Hamlet without the prince of Denmark.

The fight over access to information comes as dramatic new video of the chaos on January 6th is released. It shows rioters forcibly pushing into the capitol complex despite capitol police attempting to shut doors to lock the complex down. The mob tossing trash cans, chairs, and other items to force the door open and chasing overwhelmed police out of the way.


NOBLES (on camera): And while many of these individuals connected to these groups are already under investigation by the Department of Justice because of their role on January 6th, one of the leaders of the Proud Boys, Enrico Tarrio, is already behind bars. He was charged and convicted of vandalism because of a protest that he was a part of after the election was called for Joe Biden.

It's unclear how Tarrio's status behind bars will impact the committee's efforts to get the information they're looking for.

Ryan Nobles, CNN, on Capitol Hill.

CHURCH: Still to come, it's an historic effort to bring down global gas prices, and some of the world's biggest economies are onboard. But will it be enough to actually ease pain at the pump? We'll take a look.



CHURCH (on camera): Some of the world's biggest economies are taking aim at skyrocketing gas prices. On Tuesday, the U.S. announced plans to release a record 50 million barrels of oil from the nation's strategic petroleum reserve. Five other nations including China and India plan to take similar measures.

It comes as Americans are feeling the squeeze of higher prices, paying $3.40 a gallon on average. Compare that to just over $2 this time last year. But even after Tuesday's announcement, it could still be weeks before prices at the pump go down. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Right now, I will do what needs to be done to reduce the price you pay at the pump. And while our combination -- our combined actions will not solve the problem of high gas prices overnight. It will make a difference. It will take time, but before long, you should see the price of gas drop where you fill up your tank.


CHURCH (on camera): Let's talk more about this with Catherine Rampell, CNN economics and political commentator. She is also a Washington Post opinion columnist. Always great to have you with us.


CHURCH: So, in response to soaring gas prices, President Biden is now tapping the strategic petroleum reserves, releasing 50 million barrels to help an estimated 48 million Americans who will be driving during the Thanksgiving holiday. But that's what this country uses in just two and a half days. So how big a difference can this possibly make?

RAMPELL: I think it is unlikely to have a major effect on prices for exactly the reason you just cited. It's kind of a drop in the bucket or a drop in the barrel, if you will. When you look at total oil consumption, it's just a couple of days' worth of usage. So maybe psychologically it will make people feel better.

I think Biden at the very least wants to score some political points for being seen as doing something, and this is a something he can do. But in terms of actually moving the needle on oil prices and eventually on gas prices, it probably won't have a huge effect.

Now, that said, oil prices are already falling. The administration claims that they're falling because of this move, that the decline happened in anticipation of this announcement. Maybe. It could just be that supply chains are normalizing. But either way, perhaps the administration will claim credit if prices continue to fall further even if it has nothing to do with this particular announcement.

CHURCH: And of course, President Biden is joining us with other nations wanting to force OPEC to release more gas supplies to meet U.S. and, indeed, global demand. How likely is it that this will happen?


RAMPELL: You know, OPEC's interest is in keeping prices high. I'm not sure that job-owning them, as this administration is now trying to do, is super compelling in that regard unless there are other strategic interests that the OPEC member countries perceive at this point.

The administration has, however, coordinated with five other countries, including the U.K. and China, to try to get them to release some of their own government stockpiles to increase global supply. But all together, we're talking again about 65, 70 million barrels globally. That's less than half a day's usage in terms of global oil consumption.

OPEC is really where the big numbers are, and so far, they don't see -- that coalition, that cartel does not seem inclined to move so far.

CHURCH: Of course, the president has accused the oil and gas industry of price gouging Americans just before the holidays. Is that what's happening here?

RAMPELL: You know, to me, this seems a little bit like some political theater. The administration knows that it needs to show that it's taking American consumers' concerns about prices, particularly gas prices, seriously. Again, they want to show that they are doing something.

I don't see much evidence at this point that this is the result of anti-competitive measures, that there was suddenly some major change in the conditions of the industry that would allow companies to have so much more market power than they had a year ago.

This is about supply and demand. It's not a particularly competitive market, but it wasn't before. I mean, there's a cartel that controls supply here in terms of the actual production of the oil.

The administration seems to be focusing on the distributors, but, you know, their profits are going up, and their prices are going up for the same reason, which is that there is more demand for energy right now. And of course, that's driving up prices, and that's making it harder to access the inventory that is in existence.

Blaming it on anti-competitive practices and, you know, grasping for some sort of antitrust remedy seems a little bit, again, symbolic, theatrical, unlikely to make much of a difference at this point.

CHURCH: So just basic economics here. Catherine Rampell, thank you so much for joining us. I appreciate it.

RAMPELL: Thank you.

CHURCH: New warnings are mounting fears of a winter COVID surge in the U.S. and Europe with millions of people traveling ahead of the holidays and cases moving in the wrong direction. Health officials say the next few months could be devastating.

And two countries are in mourning as investigators search for the cause of a deadly bus crash.



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR (on camera): As Americans head into the Thanksgiving holiday, the coronavirus pandemic here in the U.S. is taking a turn for the worse. Cases are on the rise in 27 states with Midwestern states accounting for more than a third of new infections and hospitalizations are starting to tick up as well. That's all leading to growing concerns of a winter surge. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says so far only about a quarter of eligible adults have received a booster shot.

The coronavirus situation in Europe keeps getting worse. Germany just reported its highest single-day surge of new infections. More than 66,000. Its previous record came just days ago.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization warns Europe could reach more than 2 million deaths from the virus by March. The WHO says Europe accounts for 67 percent of all new cases globally in the past week.

CNN's Cyril Vanier joins me now live from Paris. Good to see you, Cyril. So a dire warning from the WHO to Europe. How are leaders across the continent likely to respond to this, if they haven't already, as they deal with vaccine hesitancy, resistance to lockdowns, and of course surging cases?

CYRIL VANIER, CNN SHOW HOST (on camera): Rosemary, we've seen multiple European leaders who simply have been taken by surprise by the number of infections that their countries have recorded recently, record highs or near record highs. That's the case in Austria, it's the case in Germany, Slovakia, Czech Republic, especially in many countries in Eastern Europe where vaccination rates are low.

But even in Western Europe, you know, France, just a week ago, the president was saying we won't have to take the kind of measures we're seeing in our neighbors and just this morning they're holding a defense council where lockdowns are no longer being ruled out.

So, that's number one. Leaders have been taken by surprise. I think that's fair to say. Number two, to answer your question, they are taking measures that they thought frankly were a thing of the past. A lockdown in Austria, a partial lockdown in the Netherlands. Going back to working from home at least four days a week in Belgium. In Germany, as of today, employees must show that they are either vaccinated, have recovered from COVID, or must present a negative COVID test. If not, their employer can withhold their pay.

All these measures leaders thought that they might not have to come to, that they would be somehow saved by vaccinations. We're seeing now with this new wave of infections that is not the case, Rosemary.

One more thing I'd like to add. A silver lining if you want to see it that way. We are seeing that in countries where vaccinations are being mandated or extremely incentivized, that is the case in Austria, we are seeing record numbers of vaccinations now.

So Austria had one of the lowest -- still does, lowest vaccination rates in Western Europe. But since the lockdown was announced, we now know that Salzburg has hit record vaccination numbers.

So if you force people, they do get vaccinated. Of course that raises questions in terms of individual freedoms and liberties, but in terms of vaccination, it does work, Rosemary.

CHURCH: Yes. It certainly does. We've seen that in various parts of the world. Cyril Vanier joining us live from Paris. Many thanks.

Well, South Korea has reported another record number of new COVID-19 infections, more than 4,100 new cases were recorded on Tuesday, prompting South Korea's Prime Minister to suggest things are urgent enough to consider new restrictions.

It was only weeks ago the country lifted most COVID measures as part of a living with COVID campaign. Since then, new cases have hit record highs several times. Officials say ICU beds at hospitals in Seoul are nearly full.


Well, after more than a year and a half of closures, New Zealand says it will begin easing border restrictions for fully vaccinated travelers starting in the New Year. New Zealanders coming from Australia will be allowed in starting January 16th.

Then residents coming from all other countries may enter in mid- February. And international tourists will be allowed from April 30th. Travelers will have to isolate for seven days and show proof of vaccination.

Well, the cause of the deadliest bus accident in Bulgaria's history is under investigation. A Bulgarian official said there was an explosion on the bus, but the reasons for it are unclear.

North Macedonia's transport minister said the bus was not registered for international transport, and the operating firm's license will be revoked. North Macedonia and Bulgaria have declared national days of mourning in memory of the victims.

Phil Black has our report.


PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The long highway winding through Bulgaria's countryside is now quiet. At least 45 people, including 12 children, were killed here early Tuesday morning after this bus caught fire. Flames quickly overwhelmed almost everyone onboard.

BOYKO RASHKOV, INTERIM BULGARIAN INTERIOR MINISTER (through translator): It's hard to look there, hard to look. I don't know if we should go into the details at this early hour. Let's leave it for a later hour. In my experience, I've never seen anything like this. People are clustered inside. They are burned to ash.

BLACK: Just seven people sitting near the back survived by smashing windows to escape. The fire was so intense, authorities say, it will be difficult to identify the victims or even be certain how many died. They were mostly tourists from North Macedonia, returning home after visiting Turkey.

Just outside the village of Bosnak, the bus slammed into a barrier in the middle of the highway. Bulgarian television says this is known as a dangerous stretch of road. The driver was among those killed, so much is still unclear how and when the fire started, whether this was human error or mechanical failure. While investigators work to find answers, a convoy of ambulance is parked nearby, waiting to carry away the dead.

Phil Black, CNN, London.


CHURCH: Time now for a short break. When we come back, the U.S. and Russia working to ease tensions in Eastern Europe.

Plus, Moscow's reaction to a U.S. plan to send weapons to Ukraine.



CHURCH: Top U.S. and Russian generals are staying in touch amid serious concerns about the Russian troop buildup near the border with Ukraine. They spoke by phone on Tuesday. Fears are growing that a border standoff could escalate into all-out war.

The Kremlin is warning that a U.S. plan to send weapons and military advisers to Ukraine would only aggravate tensions. Satellite images appear to show Russia gathering close to 100,000 troops along with tanks and military hardware near the border.

CNN's international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson, is live this hour. He joins us from London. Good to see you, Nic. So, what more are you learning about this tense situation involving Russia, Ukraine, and the United States?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well, it does seem to be an effort between the United States and Russia at the moment to understand each other's positions. General Mark Milley, the U.S. Chief of staff, Military Chief of Staff, spoke to his Russian counterpart, General Valery Gerasimov. That conversation was about risk reduction. It was about operational de- conflictions.

So, this is the kind of language that militaries use if they don't want to -- if they don't want to misread what the other is doing. The United States conundrum is that Russia is massing those troops on the border with Ukraine and that they have the military hardware there, the United States believes, to have an incursion.

From Russia's perspective, it's not so much a hard military buildup in Ukraine although the Kremlin is accusing the Ukrainian defense ministry of sort of building up troops in the Donbas region, east of the country, where there are two separatist areas.

For Russia, it's a much more sort of slow issue where they believe that they have historic, you know, rights if you will over Ukraine, that they have historic interests. They don't want to see a NATO expansion there. And what they think is happening is there is a slow creep of NATO , you know, NATO partners, the United States, others, to gain influence, to gain a military foothold, to gain political influence in Ukraine.

So Russia's problem is, is there a line that's being crossed? So when the two generals speak, it seems to be to kind of defuse that. But the troops are still there, and until they move, I think the questions are going to remain in western capitals. What's Putin's intention of spending so much money to put these troops there? Is it merely messaging, or is there something actually physically that's going to happen?

CHURCH: All right. Our Nic Robertson bringing us the very latest live from London. Many thanks.

Dramatic developments in Ethiopia with the Prime Minister now vowing to lead his country's troops on the front lines of the civil war. Abiy Ahmed's call to arms came after the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front claimed to capture two towns during their advance toward the capital.

The U.S. Special Envoy for the horn of Africa says there's been some diplomatic progress, but both sides are still trying to achieve their goals militarily, and each seems to think they're on the cusp of winning.

CNN's Larry Madowo is tracking developments. He joins us now from Nairobi. Good to see you, Larry. So what is the latest on this situation?

LARRY MADOWO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): The latest is that the Prime Minister of Ethiopia threatening to go on the front lines himself. So far it's been more than 24 hours since he made that announcement. There's been no concrete evidence that he's in fact gone to the front of this battle to fight against the rebels who are advancing in Ethiopia, threatening to go into Addis Ababa.

But he did meet Sunday with Jeffrey Feltman, the U.S. special envoy for the whole of Africa, who he told Feltman that his top priority is to kick back the Tigray People's Liberation Front and the Tigray Defense Forces back into Tigray into the north of the country.


Because this conflict since it started November last year has spread not just into Tigray but into the neighboring regions of Afar and Amhara. So according to a briefing by Feltman, he feels that the two parties agree that there is need to sit down and talk. The will is there from the African Union, from the U.N., from the U.S. that are trying to mediate this.

But the will also needs to exist between the Tigray People's Liberation Front and the Ethiopian government. And that seems to be the disconnect at this stage, and that's why it's such a big problem right now. Germany, France, the U.S., are urging the citizens to leave Ethiopia as soon as possible.

Some other diplomatic outpost as well telling the citizens or pulling out their diplomats as well out of the country as this threatens to be an all-out civil war threatening the heart of Ethiopia, which is also the seat of the African Union.

CHURCH: An of course we saw a sign there in the crowd. There's a big effort to say this isn't happening. I mean, I'm getting those tweets on my Twitter account. People there denying that there is any problem at all, and we saw that anti-CNN sign there, and they're doing that to other news organizations. So what is that about? Who's pushing that?

MADOWO: There is an insane amount of propaganda, Rosemary, on both sides of this conflict. I've only recently been in Ethiopia, and I saw the anti-CNN, anti-Western sentiment that has built up in the country, very much pushed by the government, by government news agencies, by senior government officials and by the Prime Minister himself.

And that is why you saw there's been protests recently in major capitals, Ethiopians who support the government trying to say and using the hashtag #nomore, to say that the west, that international news organization should not be scrutinizing the situation, and they should not be now pushing for any kind of solution that does not leave to a more bloodshed.

So, that is why you see all those signs against "CNN," and the "BBC," and "Reuters" and the "Associated Press" and other international agencies that can report much more independently than government mouthpieces or state news agencies.

CHURCH: All right. Larry Madowo reporting there live from Nairobi. Many thanks.

Well, just in to CNN, Germany's next government is set to take a big step forward in the coming hours. The Social Democrats, Green Party, and Free Democrats are set to present their three-way coalition deal later today. The announcement follows nearly two months of negotiations between the three parties after no single party gained a majority of the vote in September's election. Social Democrat, Olaf Schultz, is expected to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is stepping down after 16 years at the helm.

Well, still to come, another high-profile organization is accusing the International Olympic Committee of downplaying a tennis star's sexual assault allegations. Back with that in just a moment.



CHURCH: The U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons has released new documents about the death of Jeffrey Epstein, the convicted pedophile and wealthy financier. The documents show Epstein denied having any suicidal thoughts before he died by suicide despite some prison workers noting signs of troubled behavior. The government report also says prison staff made a litany of procedural errors with a number of either incorrect or incomplete record entries.

Meanwhile, the latest round of jury selection in the case against Epstein's former associate and alleged accomplice has finished. The final round is expected to begin next week.

Human Rights Watch is now among those criticizing the International Olympic Committee, accusing the organization of not putting enough pressure on Beijing to address Peng Shuai's sexual assault accusations against a former Chinese official. Beijing has repeatedly said the tennis star's situation is not a diplomatic issue.

CNN's Will Ripley takes a closer look at the complicated relationship between the sports world and the Chinese government.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Zhang Gaoli, China's 75-year-old Former Vice Premier, the onetime face of the Beijing 2022 Olympics, and the man who stands accused of sexual assault by one of China's Premier tennis stars, Peng Shuai. Her disappearance in the wake of the allegations on November 2nd and mysterious reappearance over the weekend fueling a firestorm that threatens to dismantle China's worldwide sport aspirations, or does it?

While the Women's Tennis Association's threat to pull a 10-year multi- tournament contract could cost China, contracts with Major League Baseball, the NBA, Formula 1 and others put China on course with its goal to make sports a $780 billion industry by 2025.

UNKNOWN: This could be the biggest sport economy in the world.

RIPLEY: Sports is already big business in China, home to almost 1.5 billion potential fans. According to analytics company GlobalData, Chinese firms' sponsorship agreements with the International Olympic Committee and Football federation's FIFA and UEFA alone are worth more than $2.2 billion and growing.

Athlete sponsorships and sports manufacturing account for lucrative deals for companies like Nike. In 2018, Nike made some $6.2 billion in China. That number rose 21 percent from the previous year. Nike saw just a 7 percent increase in revenue in North America over that same period. So far, Peng Shuai's sponsors have stayed silence in the wake of the allegations.

UNKNOWN: What a lot of organizations are trying to do at the moment is to navigate the middle way.

RIPLEY: The WTA has a lot to lose by taking a stand. Reportedly one- third of their revenue comes from China. For the NBA, the outcome was remarkably different. Basketball is China's most popular sport. But after a quickly deleted October 2019 tweet by Houston Rockets General Manager, Daryl Morey, in support of Hong Kong democracy protests, the backlash from China was swift.


The threat of sponsorship loss, broadcast denial, and severing of ties with the NBA proved a bridge too far for an organization that at that time made 10 percent of its revenue in the Chinese market. The NBA initially distanced itself from Morey and moved to do damage control, hoping to salvage its relationship.

And the IOC looking at a multi-billion dollar revenue stream from China's hosting of the Winter Olympics just a few months away. That relationship with China, like it was in 2015 when Zhang help negotiate Beijing hosting the 2022 Winter Games appears as strong as ever.

Will Ripley, CNN, Hong Kong.


CHURCH: NASA is working on a new mission to ensure that no asteroids crash into earth, and they took the first step just a few hours ago.


UNKNOWN: Two, one, and liftoff of the Falcon 9 and DART.

CHURCH (voice over): The DART spacecraft aboard this rocket will crash into an asteroid about 10 months from now with the goal of changing its direction. The asteroid doesn't pose a threat to earth, though, but NASA is testing the technology just in case. The target will be relatively close to earth at 6.8 million miles or 11 million kilometers. The spacecraft should hit the asteroid in September of next year.


CHURCH (on camera): And thank you so much for your company. I'm Rosemary Church. Have yourselves a wonderful day. "CNN Newsroom" continues with Isa Soares.