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CNN This Morning

U.S. Official: Russia Might Have Recovered Debris from Downed Drone; China's Xi to Visit Moscow for First Time Since Ukraine Invasion; Dozens of Mar-a-Lago Staff Subpoenaed in Classified Docs Probe; America's Largest Banks Extend $30B Lifeline to First Republic Bank; TikTok CEO to Testify Next Week as App Faces Possible U.S. Ban; Mother Visits Orlando Site Where 14-Year-Old Son Fell to His Death. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired March 17, 2023 - 06:00   ET










ROMANS: Miley Cyrus with the new video from "Endless Summer Vacation."

All right. Thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans. CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Poppy is off today. Don and I are here in New York.

Let's get started with the five things that you need to know today, St. Patrick's Day, Friday, March 17.

New overnight, China's President Xi is headed to Russia next week for the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine. China has tried to portray itself as a neutral party in the war, but the West is very skeptical and is still concerned that China is considering providing Russia with weapons.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: And a CNN exclusive. At least two dozen Mar-a- Largo staffers, ranging from restaurant service to members off Donald Trump's inner circle, have been subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury. Multiple sources tell CNN that this is in connection to the special

counsel investigation into the former president's handling of classified documents.

Also, banks rescuing another bank? First Republic Bank is set to receive a $30 billion life line. The money is coming from a group of major banks including JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo.

COLLINS: And a dramatic last-second shot. A tiger's tail turning into a Cinderella story in another full day of madness ahead.

We're going to break down all other brackets from the NCAA tournament.

Also this morning, new songs that are sure to move up the charts quickly and swiftly. We have Taylor's new tracks that were released while you were sleeping.

CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.


LEMON: You did say swiftly. That was on purpose, right?

COLLINS: Did you get up last night to listen to these?

LEMON: I did. That's why I'm so sleepy. I got up as soon as they dropped. And you don't even call them albums anymore. In my day -- back in my day --

COLLINS: We had albums.

LEMON: We had albums. We had LPs, and we'd open them and look at the liner notes. And everybody went to the record store.

COLLINS: I'm going to see her on Friday.

LEMON: I hear. Vegas.

COLLINS: I'm really excited.

LEMON: On Friday?

COLLINS: Yes, next Friday.

LEMON: Next Friday.

COLLINS: Yes. Going to be so good.

LEMON: Are you flying or driving?

COLLINS: Yes, you know. I'm going to take your plane.

LEMON: You're going to Vegas. Yes. You're going to Vegas, but she doesn't do -- what do you call it when you -- residency.

COLLINS: A residency. This is a full-blown tour. It's, like, all across the country.

LEMON: Yes. Are you excited?

COLLINS: I'll let you know. I'll get you a T-shirt.


COLLINS: OK. We're going to begin this morning, though, with that high-stakes meeting that we have just learned about.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin next Monday. This is going to be Xi's first trip to Russia since Putin invaded Ukraine over a year ago.

Beijing has attempted to present itself as a neutral party, maybe even a peace broker in all of this as this war. But they've also been providing economic and diplomatic support to the Kremlin.

And CNN reported last month that the U.S. does have intelligence suggesting China is considering providing Russia with weapons for use in Ukraine.

We're also getting new details this morning on that dramatic video you saw yesterday, the U.S. drone that was forced down by a Russian fighter jet over the Black Sea. But the U.S. and Moscow are now in the hunt for the wreckage.

Russia got there first. The U.S. does believe Russia has now recovered some of that debris.

We have team coverage here. CNN's Ivan Watson is live in Kharkiv, Ukraine. But first, let's go to CNN's Natasha Bertrand, who is at the Pentagon.

Natasha, you know, this meeting potentially has incredibly implications. What are you hearing so far from U.S. officials about this?


Well, U.S. officials have been watching this, obviously, very, very closely. They have been extremely concerned about the growing partnership between Russia and China over the last year. This growing military partnership where we have seen China provide technology, as well as equipment to the Russians but have not yet provided that lethal aid.

That is the big piece of this that U.S. officials are watching for, that weaponry that China is apparently considering providing but has not yet taken that step.

Now, the -- Russians and Chinese did declare a no-limits partnership at the beginning of the war. The partnership has only grown ever since. Xi and Putin, the president of Russia, they have spoken many, many times since the war began. Xi Jinping has actually not yet spoken to Ukrainian President

Zelenskyy, which is something that the U.S. has been urging him to do. The Chinese also introduced a 12-point so-called peace plan for the war in Ukraine that U.S. officials are extremely skeptical of. They believe that the Chinese have already picked their side in this conflict -- Kaitlan.

LEMON: Natasha, I'm going ask you a question. Because it's -- it's interesting how quickly things move on. Yesterday the big breaking news was, of course, that drone interception and the drone going down into the Black Sea.

I want to get the latest on that. What are the concerns now of Russia getting its hands on these drone fragments? At least I know it's 4,000 to 5,000 feet below surface. But still, fragments could float up.

What's the concern here?

BERTRAND: Well, so far what we're hearing at the Pentagon is that they are not overly concerned about what Russia has been able to pick up so far, because they have been pretty small pieces of things like Plexiglas, things that are not very valuable.

And of course, the U.S. also took steps to wipe the software on that drone, making it very difficult, if not impossible, for the Russians to glean anything, really, of intelligence value.

But look, we are learning that the U.S., amid all of this drama, is assessing its drone operations over the Black Sea. Because they don't want this to happen again. And so they are looking at ways to maybe deconflict with the Russians further. And they're weighing the costs and benefits of conducting these drone missions over the Black Sea and intelligence value, really, of doing it, versus the risks of potential escalation with Russia -- Don, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Yes. Big questions still remain. Natasha Bertrand at the Pentagon, thank you.

LEMON: I want to get now to Ivan Watson. We mentioned it's team coverage. Ivan is on the ground, live for us in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Good morning to you, Ivan.

What is the reaction from Ukrainian officials to the upcoming meeting between China and Russia's president?

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think they're watching nervously, Don. The Ukrainians and their allies, we know that while China says it's neutral, that Xi Jinping is much closer to Vladimir Putin. Has never condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Hasn't said a word about the fact that Russia occupied Ukrainian territory and then formally annexed it to Russia.

But the Ukrainians would much rather have China kind of pretending to be neutral than openly arming its much bigger and arguably more powerful neighbor. Yesterday the Ukrainian foreign minister had a rare phone conversation

with his Chinese counterpart. He says that he used that opportunity to repeat the principle of territorial integrity. That's something that China talks about a lot. Sovereignty and territorial integrity. But it has not said a word of that publicly when it comes to Ukraine's very battered territorial integrity, Don.

LEMON: And the impact of these fighter jets coming from Poland, how much of an impact will that have on the ground in Ukraine, Ivan?

WATSON: Look, most of this war right now is being fought by infantry and artillery. But it's symbolic, in every piece of equipment that Ukraine can get, will help. Take a listen to the Polish president making this announcement yesterday.


ANDRZEJ DUDA, POLISH PRESIDENT (through translator): Literally within the next few days, we will hand over, as far as I can remember, four aircraft to Ukraine in full working order. The rest are being prepared, serviced and will be successfully handed over.


WATSON: Now the prime minister of Slovakia -- Slovakia just announced that his small Eastern European country will also be supplying, in his words, about 13 of these MiG-29s to Ukraine, as well.

Keep in mind, these planes are probably all more than 20 years old. They're designed from the Soviet Union from the 1970s and '80s. Some of them are not in working order. They're also symbolic. This is a war of attrition. Whoever can last the longest will arguably win this terrible war.

Back to you.

LEMON: All right. Ivan Watson, thank you very much. Appreciate that.

Later in the show, I need to tell you we're going to discuss this and more with the Pentagon press secretary, Brigadier General Patrick Ryder. That's coming up.

COLLINS: And now we want to move to a major development and a CNN exclusive in the special counsel's investigation of former President Trump.

Sources tell CNN that at least two dozen people who work at Mar-a- Largo have been subpoenaed to testify about Trump's handling of top- secret and classified documents which were found stashed away at his Florida resort.

LEMON: That includes everybody from restaurant servers and housekeepers to members of Trump's inner circle. And just yesterday, our cameras captured one of Trump's top communication staffers at the court house in D.C., where she appeared before the grand jury.

COLLINS: Our CNN senior -- senior legal affairs correspondent, Paula Reid, is here to join us. Sorry. I was coughing a bit.

LEMON: Keep your hands a little --


COLLINS: Thank you, Don, for rescuing me there.

LEMON: Good morning.

COLLINS: OK. So this reporting is really fascinating on all the people who were subpoenaed. I want to get to Marco in a minute. But this subpoena, it went to house keepers, restaurant servers. Why are they of interest to investigators here?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, of course, this is the first time we've ever had a former president who lives, effectively, at a resort.

So if they fired off over two dozen subpoenas to everyone that may have seen something or heard something about classified documents or boxes moving around the resort.


But he is casting a really wide net. Little fish, big fish, anyone he can get. And they say they just want to talk to anyone who may have seen something. They want to get all the evidence possible.

But people close to the former president's legal team argue, like, look, this is a little excessive. They're trying to make it look like they've talked to hundreds of people.

But one of my questions was, look, if you're a server at a resort in Florida, how do you afford legal counsel in a federal investigation? And we have learned that Trump entities are helping some of these people with the legal bills.


LEMON: It's interesting. Because I think the common wisdom is that they're doing it because the defense, or at least the prosecution, they don't want any surprises when it comes to this. So they want to interview everyone.

So that someone doesn't step in at the last minute and say, Oh, wait, I was just the moving guy, or I happen to be, you know, a server that day. And I just moved the documents. And therefore, there's nothing to do with the former president.

REID: Exactly, leave no stone unturned.


REID: And that is really critical. I mean, there's even one guy who's caused security footage helping another aide. We know has talked to investigators. They want to talk to him, too. He was caught on security camera, helping him move boxes. They want to

know why. Who told you to do that and where were they going?

COLLINS: One of his communications aides who worked in the White House and still works for him now was actually seen going before the grand jury. I mean, this shows -- clearly, they're still bringing people in on a daily basis, people who speak to the president on a daily basis.

REID: Exactly. Because one of our questions after learning that servers and grounds keepers and house keepers were being subpoenaed, were like, all right, who's left?

Remember, we were at the White House. She was in the press office in those final months. We dealt with her every day. She's one of a small group of people who followed him down to Florida, still works for him.

So in terms of proximity to the former president, a really key witness. But at this point, it's unclear exactly what information they're able to get from her.


LEMON: Good to see you on yet another investigation.

REID: Every day.

COLLINS: Every single day. All right, Paula. Thank you.

LEMON: This morning, a life line from some of America's largest banks. First Republic Bank set to receive a $30 billion infusion of cash as it faces a crisis of confidence from both investors and customers.

These 11 banks pitching in to stabilize a California bank that is teetering on the edge, the same day that secretary -- Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told the Senate Finance Committee this. Listen.


JANET YELLEN, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: I can reassure the members of the committee that our banking system is sound and that Americans can feel confident that their deposits will be there when they need them. This week's actions demonstrate our resolute commitment to ensure that our financial system remains strong and the depositor's savings remain safe.


Lemon: For more now, I want to bring in someone who's been extremely busy this week. This is her beat, of course.

COLLINS: She was too busy to fill out a bracket.

ROMANS: I know. I wish I could think about basketball. But I'm only thinking about banks.

LEMON: There should be a bank bracket, seriously, with all this. ROMANS: You're right. You're right.

LEMON: So this --

ROMANS: I have JPMorgan for the Final Four. We're going to take it to the Final Four.

LEMON: But is this enough to stabilize?

ROMANS: So this is all of these banks bailing out another bank. You know, financial stability is a public good. And banks know that financial stability is good for their business, too, right?

So they're stepping in to make First Republic whole here, putting $30 billion in there to cover deposits.

First Republic is one of these banks that had, I think, 68 percent of its deposits were not insured. Right? So you had all these people saying, Wait a minute, if I'm not protected by the FDIC, I'm going to start moving some of my money out. And that made First Republic very weak.

There was not a buyer for this bank. So all of these other banks coming together to put money in there to say we -- we're going to bail out First Republic, not the taxpayer, other banks.

LEMON: I mean, everyone -- on something that's a whole different thing. Sixty-eight percent not insured. How does that happen? Maybe that's too far --

ROMANS: Because, you know, we're only insured up to $250,000. So a lot of people had all of their money in there. Wealthy individuals. Some businesses had their entire account in one bank. So only -- only insured up to $250,000.

So you've seen the pressure in these regional banks is because people are looking and saying, Wait a minute. I'm going to put -- I'm going to put some money in JPMorgan Chase. I want to put some money in Citigroup. I'm going to only have $250,000 in this -- in this particular bank account.

So for most people, I mean most people don't have more than $250,000 in one bank, right, so you're insured. But for some -- for others, there are these uninsured limits.

COLLINS: Most people don't. But the concern here, and I was talking to Patrick McHenry, who is the Financial Services chair yesterday, the concern is that this hurts mid-sized banks. Because people who do have money are going to these bigger banks, because they feel like they have more stability or whatnot.

So this solves the immediate issue. But what does it mean overall for the mid-sized and smaller banks?

ROMANS: Well, and you want community banks. You want --

COLLINS: They're critical.

ROMANS: You want vibrant, healthy community banks. And I think that's one of the important parts of this First Republic event. Is like, the big banks know that, too. They know that it's good to have different size banks all around.

You want to have community banks, and you want them to be healthy. And that was one of the reasons why some of that rollback of Dodd-Frank in 2018, you know, you had Democrats and Republicans who wanted to make sure that there weren't really stringent -- such stringent rules on these small and mid-sized banks that they couldn't afford stress tests and the like.


I think the jury is still out about whether rolling those regulations back allowed this to happen. It might be one of the factors.

But for the most part, this is a big interest rate story. Interest rates went up so far, so fast. It really -- it really caught out a lot of these smaller banks.

LEMON: Janet Yellen getting questions about that yesterday.


LEMON: The interest rate hikes.

ROMANS: And we'll be -- we'll be watching these regional banks this morning. They're a little weak this morning. I think, look, I think regulators have drawn a line under the crisis for now. But it's going be bumpy in the -- in the weeks and months ahead.

LEMON: They're down.

ROMANS: Yes, they're down this morning right now. So we'll watch and see. It's volatile.

LEMON: Thanks for staying.

ROMANS: Nice to see you guys.

LEMON: You, as well.

The Biden administration telling TikTok's parent company: sell the app or face a possible ban here in the United States. Now the CEO of TikTok is pushing back. His message to Washington and the options on the table. We'll discuss.


COLLINS: The Biden administration has drawn a line in the sand for the incredibly popular social media app TikTok over national security concerns.

Now telling its Chinese-owned parent company that it either needs to sell its stake in the U.S. version of the app or it's going to be banned.


The TikTok CEO is pushing back on that idea, telling "The Wall Street Journal" that the sale of the company will not solve the security concerns that the U.S. has.

Joining us now for perspective on this is Sara Fischer, CNN's media analyst and media reporter at Axios.

Sara, I know the CEO of TikTok is going to be on Capitol Hill next week. And he's basically making the argument that what they're trying to do is not going to -- to ease their concerns.

Is he right or is that just, you know, a pretty obvious message coming from the company's CEO?

SARA FISCHER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: It's a pretty obvious message, Kaitlan. Clearly, our government does not agree with that. Because if they did, they wouldn't be forcing the Chinese owners to sell the stake in order for the app to remain here.

What TikTok has been doing is spending billions of dollars to move the data of U.S. users to servers here in the U.S. and Europe. It's also working with Oracle to give that company oversight of its content moderation algorithms.

But the concern from Washington is that any Chinese company, by law, has to give data over to China. And so even though TikTok says they're doing all these things to mitigate concern, if they still have Chinese shareholders, of which there are a lot, they're going to be beholden to this law, and that poses a national security risk.

LEMON: Sara, what would exactly a change in ownership -- what would that do? What would that fix here? Would that make any difference?

FISCHER: Well, that's where it gets a little bit complicated. One, what does a change in ownership mean? Does it mean that every single shareholder in the company right now needs to outright sell the company fully to a U.S. firm? Does it mean that the folks who have Chinese citizenship, who would be beholden to a law like that would have to sell their stakes? So that would be most of the employees and the founders. It's about 40 percent.

But what will it do, Don? It would ensure that a U.S. company has oversight, essentially, of how this app works. Meaning it would have oversight over the data privacy of U.S. users and have a content algorithms work.

In the past, we've seen two examples where this could actually be pretty helpful.

In 2019, there was a "Guardian" report that TikTok in the U.S. was filtering out algorithms that were spreading negative messages around the CCP. Algorithms, hashtags, messages, etc. And then also, more recently, there is a report that the ByteDance employees were using the app to spy on U.S. journalists. So those are two concrete examples. Both of which, by the way, TikTok executives have admitted have occurred and, you know, are true, where if there was ownership by a U.S. company, that would be less likely to happen.

COLLINS: So TikTok has this proposed compromise, which they're calling Project Texas. Basically, it would allow Oracle, which is an American company, to store the data of American users on the app. And it says it would safeguard against influence from China, arguing, you know, the data behind -- the idea behind it is that it won't matter what the Chinese law says or any law, because they're taking U.S. user data and and putting it out of their reach.

But are they really? I think people would be very skeptical of that claim.

FISCHER: So apparently, they have about a year to do all the data migration and to move it over. But this goes back to the ownership question. Right, Kaitlan?

If the company that actually outright owns it is American, then, of course, you can ensure their word when they say they've migrated all the data over.

If it's not an American company, there's a concern that they're not telling the truth.

Another big issue here is the algorithm. You know, Chinese government has tried so hard to protect the I.P. of Chinese tech companies. Part of the concern that they have with ByteDance selling a stake or selling the app would be would they be able to sell the algorithm?

And as it looks right now, it does not appear like China would let that happen, let alone even let a whole outright sale happen.

LEMON: Final question, Sara. Why aren't you here in New York with us instead of in D.C.? We like having you on the set.

FISCHER: Next week.

LEMON: All right.


LEMON: Perfect answer. Thank you, Sara. Have a good weekend, appreciate it.

FISCHER: Thank you.

LEMON: Straight ahead here on CNN THIS MORNING --


MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Pete Buttigieg not only can't do his job but he can't take a joke. (END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Former Vice President Mike Pence defending his joke about Pete Buttigieg's maternity leave. How the Buttigiegs are responding.

COLLINS: We're also hearing from the family of that 14-year-old kid who was killed on an Orlando amusement park ride. The lawsuit that they just settled, a year after the fall.


NEKIA DODD, MOTHER OF TYRE SAMPSON: This was my son's last breath, last place on earth. I mean, last thought, last everything. He took his last everything on that ride.



LEMON: This is really the worst nightmare for anyone. The family of a 14-year-old boy has reached a settlement after he fell to his death at a Florida amusement park nearly a year ago.

Tyre Sampson was on spring break when he slipped out of his seat on the 400-foot-tall Orlando Freefall ride at Icon Park.

CNN's Carlos Suarez joins us now, live, from Orlando.

Carlos, horrible. What is the latest with this?

CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Sampson's mother tells me that she promised her son that she would see this ride taken down. And as you can see behind me, parts of that ride now rest on the street outside of that amusement park, where that teenager died.

And as can you imagine for the family, having come out here earlier this week to remember him, this was an incredibly difficult trip.


SUAREZ (voice-over): Nekia Dodd making a first and possibly last visit to the amusement ride that killed her 14-year-old son, Tyre Sampson. Workers began taking apart the Freefall drop tower ride in Orlando as she watched.

DODD: This place was my son's last breath, last place on earth. I mean, last thought, last everything. He took his last everything on that ride.

SUAREZ (voice-over): Sampson was on a spring break trip last March when he fell from what the ride's operators say was the world's tallest drop tower ride at Icon Park. Nearly a year later, Dodd said the grief is still overwhelming.

DODD: I still talk to him like he's there every day. He's still with me spiritually. He's just not physically so. SUAREZ (voice-over): And an investigation by Florida's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services determined Sampson slipped out of his seat because he wasn't properly secured.

The report found operators made manual adjustments to two seats on the ride in order to accommodate, quote, "larger people."