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Xi and Putin to Meet as Tensions with West Grow; Dow Falls Amid Lingering Bank Sector Concerns; Dozens of Mar-a-Lago Staffers Subpoenaed in Classified Documents Probe. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 17, 2023 - 10:00   ET




ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: The top of the hour here on your Friday morning. I'm Erica Hill.


This morning, U.S. officials are expressing deep concerns as China's President Xi Jinping prepares to meet face-to-face with Vladimir Putin in Moscow. The summit itself not a surprise but Washington on edge waiting to see if China makes any move in particular to provide weapons to Russia for its ongoing war in Ukraine.

HILL: Also this hour, President Biden welcoming a special St. Patrick's Day guest to the White House, you can tell by Jim's tie, it's St. Patrick's Day, Ireland's prime minister. We're going to take you there live.

Plus, some last minute drama as Wall Street's wild week comes to a close, the major company that just filed for bankruptcy. We will get you caught up on all of that ahead.

But we do want to begin this hour with the news of that meeting between Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. CNN Senior International Correspondent Will Ripley joins us now. So, what is on the agenda here for this face-to-face meeting?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is certainly the official agenda that's been put out and there's the likely agenda, which will include discussions about what the U.S. is very concerned, which is lethal weapon support for Russia from China. I mean, Vladimir Putin needs chips, he needs ammo and he needs all the tools that he can get to try to help his struggling ground forces to turn the tide, and China, and Putin specifically, who just got an unprecedented presidential third term, has the power and the resources to do that. And these two have said they have a no limits partnership.

Kremlin is saying that they are going to be talking about strategic cooperation and important -- signing important bilateral documents. And so even though China publicly stating that this trip is all about urging peace and promoting talks and that China has an objective and impartial position and is engaging in diplomacy, putting out this 12- point document, not calling the invasion an invasion, not condemning Russia for it, and, in fact, basically suggesting that Ukraine should just give up some of the territory in order to stop the fighting that it did not start.

So, it's hard to see China as impartial here. The big concern by U.S. and NATO and others is that China's public neutral stance could actually shift to direct lethal support for Russia's war in Ukraine. Perhaps some analysts say then suggesting that China would expect that same support from Russia at some point in the future if it decided to make a move on this island that it coveted so much, it has for so many decades, Taiwan.

HILL: Yes. There is a lot to watch and to listen for just ahead here. Will, I appreciate it, thank you.

SCIUTTO: Right now, to the continuing fallout over Russia downing a U.S. drone over the Black Sea, the U.S. assessing its current drone operations there in response to Russia's harassment. While the U.S. has not stop drone flights, U.S. military is being asked to look at them, the routes, de-confliction with Russia closely.

HILL: CNN's Natasha Bertrand along with Jim have been following these developments very closely. There's some more reporting this morning. What are officials now revealing, Natasha?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, Erica. Well, what we are told is that the U.S. is conducting an assessment following this incident between the drone and the Russian fighter jets to get a better sense for how they can de-conflict with the Russians in the future. They are assessing their routes. They are also analyzing the cost/benefit analysis of doing these flights and essentially weighing the intelligence value here against the risk of potential escalation with the Russians, because, of course, this was a major incident, the first the collision between a drone and Russian fighter jets that we've seen over the course of the war. And so they are looking a very hard look at that.

Flights, however, have not stopped entirely. We are actually seeing just this morning yet another drone flying over the Black Sea, indicating that the U.S. has not been deterred from conducting these missions since incident happened.

Now, we are also learning that the Russians have been able to collect some of that debris from the crash site. They pretty much got to the crash site first, but the U.S. saying that they are not overly concerned about what they can retrieve, because, essentially, the water is so deep and the drone basically broke apart when it hit the water, that there is very little that the Russians would be able to glean anyway on top of that the U.S. actually wiped the software of that drone as it crashed into the Black Sea.


But here is what Pentagon Press Secretary Pat Ryder told CNN this morning about it. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIG. GEN. PATRICK RYDER, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: We are very confident that if they were able to recover anything and we can't corroborate those press reports, but if they were able to recover anything, that it would very likely have very little use. We took precautions to ensure that information on that MQ-9 was protected. Oh, by the way, that drone landed in extremely deep water, so, again, very unlikely that they are going to get anything useful from it.


BERTRAND: So, so far, what the Russians have been able to gather, we are told, is small pieces of debris, things like plexiglass, nothing too valuable. Again, the U.S. has no naval assets in the Black Sea right now that would allow them to readily retrieve the debris themselves. So, it seems as though the Russians might have first dibs on that, but, again, likely nothing valuable anyway. Jim, Erica?

SCIUTTO: Natasha Bertrand, thanks so much.

Joining us now to speak about what this all means, CNN Contributor Jill Dougherty, adjunct professor at Georgetown University, of course, former CNN Moscow Bureau Chief. Jill, good to have you back on this morning.


SCIUTTO: I want to begin, if I can, with the Xi/Putin summit, the latest sign of how close this relationship is. I am curious, China, of course, gets to portray itself as potential peacemaker in Ukraine, itself on the world stage, what does Vladimir Putin get from going to see Xi in Moscow for this visit? And what is he expecting?

DOUGHERTY: Oh, it is huge. I think for Vladimir Putin, China is the answer. It is the biggest friend that Russia has right now, obviously, an economic power, a military power, and also China playing that careful game of kind of balancing, at least rhetorically, between the west and Russia, saying it wants peace, but on the other hand, as we have been noting, not saying anything directly against the war.

But I think you are going to be able to see when Xi arrives. This will be a very big deal. We will probably see shaking hands everywhere. They are going to talk about the economy, deepening relations, but also I think just value of having Xi come to Moscow is very big for Putin. He needs it.

HILL: Yes, there is the image of that, right, having him right there next to Putin in Moscow is key. It's interesting, as you pointed out, and as Will was talking to, the language that's being used here very specifically, intentionally by China. It's not just putting that word peace in there and talking about what they would like to see, but it's important, too, that the statements that we have heard, the comments from the foreign minister were very much parroting Russia's language here in terms what this war is from an Russian view, and not the view of the rest of the world, which, of course, recognizes that Russia invaded Ukraine.

DOUGHERTY: Yes. We could see -- the Chinese are looking at it as the United States is pouring oil on the fire, so to speak. And so -- and that obviously is Vladimir Putin believes that it is an existential fight for the survival of Russia. So, I think on many levels, this plays very well.

With the economy in Russia surviving but there are real problems rising. They need China. They need China to buy their oil and gas and all of that. And then they also continue to have military operations and cooperation, no bound relation. So, on many, many levels, it is very important for Putin.

SCIUTTO: We know and we heard public warnings of this from U.S. officials in recent weeks that U.S. believes China is considering supplying lethal assistance to Russia and its war in Ukraine. Today, the U.K. Ministry of Defense says that Russian operations have slowed significantly in the east because they are running out of manpower, they are running out of weapons. What would Chinese military support mean to Russia?

DOUGHERTY: Well, it depends on what kind of support they get. I mean, they could obviously supply technology, which is very important. Russian technology right now is in a very serious state and a lot of the weapons that are used have technology. But that would be long- term.

They also could support this kind of weapons, ammunition, but the problem, I think, for China is do you do that overtly or could you do it covertly? Because if that happens, then, obviously, the United States is going to be faced with the decision as to whether or not to sanction China. So, it's a very big deal for China to get into a fight with the United States over that.


HILL: When we look quickly at some of the developments when it comes to Ukraine, the fact that both Poland and Slovakia have now committed to these MiGs sending them to Ukraine, there is, I know, in a number of camps, some hope that that will force other allies, including the U.S., to think differently, perhaps provide some airpower to Ukraine. Do you see that pressure being applied by this move?

DOUGHERTY: Well, you have got -- I think it is 12 from Poland. These are the MiGs, MiG-29 Soviet fighters actually from that era. And there are things that Ukraine could use very quickly, that's very, very important. And Slovakia, I believe, is giving 13. So, you have got about 25 of these.

They would not necessarily change the entire equation but I was watching what the Kremlin was saying about it, and they are trying to downplay it. In fact, the spokesperson for Putin, Peskov, Dmitry Peskov, said, oh, this is old technology, they're just trying to get rid of it. But I think they are concerned.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And not so old because you have some NATO allies that are flying these flies and they have the ability to coordinate with ground forces. We will see the impact. Jill Dougherty, thanks so much.

DOUGHERTY: Thank you.

HILL: Well, we are closely watching the markets this Friday after a rough week of banking turmoil, a rough for a lot of folks emotionally too as they are wondering what is happening.

SCIUTTO: CNN's Matt Egan joins us now. So, Matt, another U.S. regional bank was on the brink of failure, got a huge lifeline and notably not from the U.S. government taxpayers but private banks. Tell us the importance of all this.

MATT EGAN, CNN REPORTER: Yes, Jim and Erica. What a week this has been. We have had government interventions, bank failures and, yes, this industry-led rescue.

Let's actually start, though, with this bankruptcy news, because SVB Financial, that's the parent company of Silicon Valley Bank, filing for bankruptcy this morning. Now this bankruptcy filing does not include Silicon Valley Bank itself, which has been taken over by regulators. And this was largely expected but still just another significant step in what has been the unwinding of this business.

Now, we should look at how markets are performing. U.S. markets opening modestly lower, sort of giving back some of yesterday's big gains. There was a lot of enthusiasm over this industry-led rescue of First Republic Bank. But what is very interesting is after regional banks, they skyrocketed yesterday, they're actually all down sharply this morning, including First Republic Bank, which is, as you can see on the screen, down 17 percent, giving back yesterday's gains. PacWest Bancorp, that's another California regional lender, Western Alliance , all down on the day.

Fixed ratings just came out this morning saying that they could still go ahead and downgrade First Republic's credit rating despite this $30 billion rescue. And we should just note how remarkable this rescue is from the industry. You have 11 of the nation's biggest banks teaming up to inject $30 billion.

HILL: And it's in their best interests, right? I mean, look, it's great and we're glad that they're doing it, but it is not this overall selfless move, right? They have a little skin in the game too, which is important to point out. And even those regional banks, Christine was saying some of those are done because investors are worried, right? Their profits are going to be lower.

EGAN: Yes.

HILL: As we look at this, though, we do have some new numbers, we've been talking all week too about what does this mean for average people, like what does this mean for my money in the bank, what does it mean for your confidence. We do have some consumer confidence numbers out, feelings on the state of the economy, what are we seeing?

EGAN: So, consumer sentiment, the new numbers up from the University of Michigan, they dropped. Consumer sentiment dropped preliminary numbers in March. This is the first decline for consumer sentiment in four months. What is interesting, though, is that this is not Silicon Valley Bank. This is actually not the bank stress. University of Michigan says 85 percent of their interviews for this survey were done before Silicon Valley Bank become this major bank failure.

Instead, University of Michigan is blaming the other big problem that we'd be dealing with for the last year and a half, which is high inflation. So, you have to wonder how these numbers actually may come down further when it reflects the fact that people have become more concerned about the banking system.

One point, though, that you're making about two regional banks. So, it is definitely right to say that these stocks are down because people are worried about how much money they're making. That is the primary concern. And we should just note that FDIC insurance still protects people up to $250,000. So, we can see the bank stocks come down but the money in the bank up to $250,000 is safe.

HILL: It doesn't mean -- yes. It doesn't mean that's impacting, which is important. I am glad you said that.

Matt, I appreciate it, as always. It has been a long week for you, too, my friend.

Still to come here, a CNN exclusive, from Mar-a-Lago staffers to members of former President Trump's inner circle, dozens of people subpoenaed to testify over Trump's handling of classified documents.


SCIUTTO: Plus, a 20-year-old soldier at Ft. Hood found dead. Military investigators say there was no foul play, but a family says they have so many questions about her death.

And violent protests continue in the streets of Paris, hundreds arrested as anger erupts over an effort to force through a pension reform. They want to raise the retirement age a couple of years. We're going to take a closer look. That's coming up.


HILL: This just into CNN. YouTube has decided to restore former President Trump's channel. In a tweet, the company saying it carefully evaluated the continued risk of real world violence while balancing the chance for voters hear equally from major national candidates in the run-up to an election.


SCIUTTO: Axios Media Reporter Sara Fischer and CNN Media Analyst just broke the story. She joins us now live.

I wonder what you are hearing about exactly the decision-making but behind this, including facts, for instance, that the president continues to spread lies about the 2020 election as he run in 2024. SARA FISCHER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: Yes, that is a great question. Well, I think one of the major determining factors is that we now have Nikki Haley, who has officially joined the race, making the race competitive. And so I think YouTube was thinking, look, we have a risk right now with Donald Trump, but at the same time we also have a civic duty to people who want to hear from all candidates.

It's also worth noting, Jim, that other platforms have since renewed his accounts. So, YouTube is following Meta in bringing Trump's accounts back on both Instagram and Facebook, as well as Twitter under Elon Musk. HILL: Interesting to see where this goes, too. So, there we have it,

YouTube is restoring the channel. Sara, I appreciate you. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Other story we're following, CNN has learned, and this is exclusive reporting, that at least two dozen Mar-a-Lago staffers, as well as members of Donald Trump's inner circle, have now been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury investigating the former president's handling of classified documents.

HILL: So, yesterday, Trump's communications aide, Margo martin, appeared before the grand jury in Washington. Also on the list of those called to testify, a housekeeper, restaurant servers and Trump's own attorneys.

Joining us now to discuss, Elie Honig, CNN Senior Legal Analyst, former Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York.

So, this seems like, hey, we are just going to ask everybody. Is that a smart view from your move?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It is. Prosecutors are obsessed with knowing everything. Take it from me. I was there for a long time. And I think they're really looking for two things here. First of all, I think prosecutors want to know did anyone at Mar-a-Lago see these documents, moved these documents, if so, on whose instructions. And I think second of all, they're casting about to see did anyone, a housekeeper, a maintenance worker, happened to see anything or overhear anything, you never know who is going to break a case for you. And I think it's a smart move to sort of blanket the earth here.

SCIUTTO: There had been some conventional wisdom, and I cite this knowing the conventional wisdom is often wrong, that given the fact that classified documents also found in the offices, residence of Joe Biden and Mike Pence, that made it less a legal issue but just a practical matter, less likely that the Justice Department would charge in Trump's case. Do you believe that to be true or do these interviews, subpoena show this is still wide open?

HONIG: I don't think that's true, Jim. It's not the way that it's supposed to work. What prosecutors are supposed to do is take all the facts and evaluate independently. And there clearly are important differences between the Trump document scenario and the Biden and Pence document scenarios. But that said, we operate in the real world and it's hard for me to see a world where Merrick Garland approves of criminal charges against Donald Trump on a documents and declines to charge Joe Biden and Mike Pence. I just think that that's a difficult needle to thread for Merrick Garland.

HILL: When we look at what's happening here in New York, everybody is sort of waiting to see, are there going to be charges here in Manhattan for Donald Trump connected to these hush money payment to Stormy Daniels. So, what's interesting to me is there's so much focus on Michael Cohen and how he would be as a witness. Now, you have worked with important witnesses in your cases as a former prosecutor who were less -- had less than sterling reputations, I will put it that way.

HONIG: To say the least, yes.

HILL: So, if you're the prosecutor in this case, how do you present a Michael Cohen to the jury, a man who has admitted to lying?

HONIG: Yes. So, I'll do you one better. I have called witnesses, start witnesses who were way worse people than Michael Cohen who have done way worse things than Michael Cohen. But Michael Cohen is a tricky case because he has this long history of lying. He's been convicted of perjury, bank fraud, tax fraud. So, that raises separate issues.

The key with any cooperating witness including Michael Cohen is always going to be corroboration. What hard, indisputable evidence is there that backs them up, what documents, what recordings, what checks, what bank records, what other witness testimony is there that backs up the person. That to me is the million dollar question with Michael Cohen or any cooperating witness.

SCIUTTO: All right, to another investigation on Trump, the one ongoing in Georgia. We now know that the Fulton County special grand jury, it heard not one but three audio recordings clips of Trump allegedly pressuring Georgia officials to overturn the election there. How impactful are recordings like this and particularly based on what the president said to those individuals? Do they provide, in your view, the evidence to indict?

HONIG: So, first of all, there is no evidence better that recordings, because that is the defendant or the subject's own voice. They cannot dispute what was said. And there's something to showing a jury to letting a jury listen and hear and judge it for themselves. The fact that there are now three recordings, two of them are in the public realm and the third one, Jim, is this new one that you're alluding to that we just learned to involving the Georgia speaker of the house.

That, to me, makes this a pattern, if I'm arguing this as a prosecutor.


One call can be a one-off, two is a bit more designed to it, but three is a pattern, I would argue. And these calls, by the way, took place over the course of several weeks. So, I think this sort of eliminates an argument by Trump of he was just sort of venting, he just had a bad day, he just said some things he didn't mean. Now, I think you're able to say, look, he made these three calls, and each one of them, he has the same M.O. He is asking that local official to exercise their power to throw the election over to him.

HILL: So, speaking of Fulton County, really quickly, the D.A., Fani Willis, had said back in January, I believe it was, that a decision is imminent. It is now St. Patrick's Day. We're more than half way through March. I mean, what is imminent actually mean in your view?

HONIG: There is a bit of a race here. We're all wondering who is going to indict first, if anyone. Imminent, just so people know, that is not some technical legal word. Imminent means soon and it means whatever the speaker wants imminent to mean.

I will say this. The way the Georgia grand jury system is set up is because convene new grand juries every two months, so beginning of March, beginning of May, beginning of July. Typically, you would want to indict earlier in that period for speedy trial reasons that are sort of technical. Now, we're already into middle of March.

So, I think if I'm in that position, I would want to land an indictment either at the beginning of March, which we're already past, or at the beginning of May or the beginning of July.

HILL: All right. We will see if she follows your calendar.

HONIG: We'll see.

HILL: Elie, thanks.

SCIUTTO: Coming up next, a special St. Patrick's Day meeting at the White House, President Biden sitting down Ireland's prime minister. That's happening soon. We're going to take you there live.

And as we watch St. Patrick's Day events around the country, including these live images from Savannah, Georgia, home to one of the largest celebrations in the U.S. I got my green tie. It's a big day.