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China's Xi to Visit Moscow for First Time Since Putin Invaded Ukraine; Dozens of Mar-a-Lago Staff Subpoenaed in Classified Documents Probe; America's Largest Banks Extend $30 Billion Lifeline to First Republic Bank. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired March 17, 2023 - 07:00   ET



KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: And sheriff's deputies and hospital workers have been charged with murder this morning after a black man died in a mental health facility in Virginia. Prosecutors arguing surveillance video shows him being, quote, smothered. His grieving mother says her son was treated worse than a dog.

Also a CNN exclusive, dozens of workers at Mar-a-Lago have been called to testify in the special counsel's investigation of former President Trump, everyone, from restaurant servers to a housekeeper. We'll tell you why they could potentially be key witnesses.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: All right. This sounds like a movie but it is real, okay? An absolutely monstrous 5,000 mile-wide blob of algae is headed to Florida. It is so big that you can see it from outer space. We're going to tell you when and where it is expected to come ashore.

COLLINS: And Taylor Swift fans rejoicing this morning. We'll have the new tracks that she dropped while you were sleeping. CNN This Morning starts right now.

LEMON: A very big news day. It is Friday. We're going to start with Russia getting a major show of support from China as the war rages in Ukraine. Beijing just announcing this morning that Chinese President Xi Jinping will head to Moscow next week for the first time since the invasion they began to meet face-to-face with Vladimir Putin.

So, this is all coming at a very critical moment in the war. Russia is desperately trying to turn the tide and U.S. officials have warned that China is thinking about sending weapons to help. But Beijing has been casting itself as a peacemaker and Chinese officials insist that is what this meeting is all about.


WANG WENBIN, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN: China will uphold an objective and fair position on Ukraine crisis and play a constructive role in promoting talks for peace.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LEMON: CNN's Will Ripley live for us in Taiwan this morning. Will, hello to you. Will, the Kremlin here says that this meeting is about strategic cooperation. What do you know?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it depends on what kind of strategic cooperation they're actually talking about, because China is claiming that this is about urging peace and promoting talks. Remember, they put out this 12-point document with a plan to end the -- what they called kind of special military operation, using Russia's lingo. China refuses to condemn the invasion. They refuse to even call it an invasion.

And even though President Xi is trying to portray himself as a neutral diplomat, a peacemaker, he hasn't even been willing to get on the phone with President Zelenskyy of Ukraine. And now his first overseas visit after his endorsement as president for a third term, an unprecedented third term in China, it really just show that Xi's priorities are, you know, on his authoritarian best bud, Vladimir Putin, as they continue to entrench against the west and help really Russia kind of minimize the impact for regular people of the sanctions by the west as well as providing potentially microchips and other things that Russia needs for the military.

And the U.S., of course, concerned, as you mentioned, that they could be providing lethal support or at least considering providing lethal support. There was a Chinese-made drone that was shot down over Eastern Ukraine in recent days.

LEMON: Is there any reason to believe China, because China says that they want to urge peace here?

RIPLEY: Well, their definition of peace might be very different from the Ukrainians. And, again, how can you paint yourself as a neutral party when you won't even talk to one side of the negotiation? Because of this no limits partnership that Xi and Putin declared, you know, around the time of the Winter Olympics, essentially, they're standing in each other's corner no matter what the west says. And that could potentially be a problem. A lot of analysts look at this and think that China is supporting Russia, even considering arming Russia because a Russian victory in Ukraine would not only be humiliating for the United States but could embolden Xi's own potential plans on the self-governing democracy here where I'm in Taiwan.

LEMON: Will Ripley in Taiwan, thank you, Will.

COLLINS: Also this morning, the special counsel that is investigating former President Trump, Jack Smith, is now digging deeper into his handling of secret and classified documents. Sources tell CNN at least two dozen people who work at Mar-a-Lago have now been subpoenaed to testify.

It's not just top people you may recognize from television. That includes everybody, from restaurant servers, to a house keeper, members of Trump's inner circle. They could potentially be key witnesses based on what they may have seen or heard at the Florida estate where FBI agents, as we know, found a stash of classified documents upon that search warrant that was executed in August including some of the nation's most closely guarded secrets.

Just yesterday, our cameras saw one of Trump's top communications aides at the courthouse in Washington where she appeared before the grand jury. You can see her going in there.

Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid is here us with.


I think what I'm most struck by is just the depth of these subpoenas, going from they want to talk to Trump's attorneys, they want to talk to people who are serving dinner at the restaurants, they want to talk to everybody.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It's remarkable, isn't it? Clearly, the special counsel is going wide and he's going deep, all the way down to people serving burgers at Mar-a-Lago. But what they want to know is have you seen anything, have you heard anything about classified documents or boxes that could have contained classified documents? Because they're investigating not only the potential mishandling of classified materials but also any efforts to potentially obstruct this investigation.

So, for example, in addition to the groundskeeper and the housekeeper, they're also talking to someone who is seen on security footage helping another aide move some boxes. So, they're really talking to everyone in this investigation, leaving no stone unturned, clearly.

COLLINS: And Evan Corcoran, he is a Trump attorney. People may not -- he represented Steve Bannon. They recognize him. We're waiting to find out what the chief judge in Washington is going to decide. They're trying to basically get him to testify without using attorney-client privilege or he doesn't have to answer certain questions.

REID: Exactly. He's already gone before the grand jury. And during that appearance, he declined to answer questions about communications he had with the former president. That's attorney-client privilege 101. But the special counsel has been pretty aggressive here. They're trying to get around that, arguing that his advice may have been used in a crime. It's called a crime fraud exception. And we're waiting for a judge to make this decision.

Now, she moves on from the bench. She basically ages on to a new role at 5:00 P.M. today. So, you and I are going to continue to be pinging our sources relentlessly. She is really bringing it down to the wire in terms of this decision, because this is really one of the most nationally significant questions legally that's out there right now.

COLLINS: Yes. Trump team thought it was going to be yesterday. Clearly, it hasn't happened yet.

Paula Reid, great to have you on set.

REID: Likewise.

LEMON: And more news this morning. We're talking about First Republic Bank and the bank's situation. This is First Republic's issue, set to receive a $30 billion life line from a group of America's 11 largest banks. Shares in the San Francisco lender had been sliding since last week's failure of Silicon Valley Bank. The money will give First Republic the much needed cash to meet customer withdrawals and build confidence in the U.S. banking system.

Let's get to CNN's Christine Romans joining us now.


LEMON: Good morning to you again. We've seen a lot of you. You just sit here and we'll just say, Christine, what is happening now? So, seriously, what is happening now? People are wondering why First Republic, why are they being propped up?

ROMANS: Because First Republic was really teetering here. And a lot of people were worried that this could be another bank that could fail. And financial stability is incredibly important. So, you have banks bailing out a rival, banks bailing out a competitor, another bank, putting in $30 billion to help cover some of these uninsured deposits on the books of First Republic.

And, really, you have got to think about financial stability, like a public utility. It's almost like clean water and electricity, right? You want your banks to be healthy and work. And so it's good for these banks that are healthy to make sure they step in and prop up this bank that is not.

So, this bank, First Republic, I think 68 percent of the deposits on its books were uninsured deposits. So, people who have uninsured deposits are looking for places to put the money where it can be insured. So, you've seen a lot of money flowing out of First Republic and this is trying to stench that flow.

COLLINS: Yes. New York Times says the arrangement was about precedent in decades, and just an indication of how dire.

ROMANS: It's an indication -- look, first, last week, we had the FDIC on a couple banks is going to insure all the deposits of Signature Bank and SVB and then you have this fed lending facility, which I would like to say is a success so far. $12 billion has been lent out to banks under this fad facility that was announced last weekend. So, that's another sign of these different kinds of instruments that have been deployed to make sure that the oxygen in America's financial system, its banking system is working and healthy.

LEMON: Everybody watching the market and the banks.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

LEMON: Thank you, Christine.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

COLLINS: Also this morning, we're tracking a story out of Virginia, where three hospital workers are now facing murder charges after 28- year-old Irvo Otieno died in custody in a state mental health facility last week. This is his picture here. Seven sheriff's deputies, the one on the screen now, are also facing second-degree murder charges.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us live outside of the Dinwiddie County courthouse in Virginia. Brian, what do we know about this? What is the county saying about pieces of evidence here?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, as for that security footage, Kaitlan, the family of Irvo Otieno has viewed that security footage of his death. This is video that has not been released to the public. But the family and their lawyers have described to us what it was like to watch that, saying it was excruciating to watch.


TODD (voice over): Today, three more people charged with second- degree murder in the death of a 28-year-old Irvo Otieno in custody.


All three are employees of the Central State Hospital mental health facility in Virginia where Otieno was taken on March 6th. That's in addition to seven sheriff's deputies already charged with second- degree murder.

CAROLINE OUKO, MOTHER OF IRVO OTIENO: He was my dad. They smothered the breath out of my baby. The murdered my baby.

TODD: His family has now seen video of the fatal incident.

LEON OCHIENG, BROTHER OF IRVO OTIENO: At what point do we stop preserving life? And what point do we consider mental illness a crime?

TODD: Prosecutors say Otieno died of asphyxiation after being held down for 11 or 12 minutes.

BENJAMIN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR OTIENO FAMILY: Restraints so brutally with knee on his neck, the weight of seven individuals on his body while he is face down, handcuffed, with leg irons.

TODD: Otieno was arrested on March 3rd after police say they responded to a burglary call next door to his home and took him to the hospital for evaluation where he became, quote, physically assaultive. His mother says she pleaded with the police.

OUKO: They pulled him off the treatment, took him to jail, didn't take him down there with any medicine.

TODD: After a weekend in jail, where prosecutors say video shows Otieno was pepper sprayed, punched and mistreated, he was brought to the Central State Mental facility on March 6 where authorities allege he became combative.

CRUMP: And the videos are never confrontational with them. He is not posing a threat them. He's not violent or aggressive with them. TODD: In court -- an early glimpse of the deputy's potential defense, one lawyer citing this.

EDWARD NICKEL, ATTORNEY FOR DEPUTY BRADLEY DISSE: The ongoing issues that he had been -- that they having been with this individual with regards to his disorderly conduct, with regards to his aggression, with regards to his resistance --

TODD: But his family says what he needed was help.

What do you want to see happen to these deputies, either of you?

OUKO: Justice. I would like them put away, if you ask me, for life, that they don't see the light of day again. What they did to my son was horrific, horrific.


TODD (on camera): We've reached out to the Central State Hospital mental facility for their response to the charging of three of their employees with second-degree murder. We have not heard back.

We have also reached out to the attorneys identified so far for the deputy's charged in this case. We've only heard back in detail from one of them who told us that their client looks forward to being vindicated in court. Kaitlan?

COLLINS: Yes. We'll see what the evidence shows. Brian Todd, thank you.

LEMON: Now to the weather, portions of the Gulf, Gulf Coast bracing for strong storms today. It comes after dozens of powerful storms have pelted the region, bringing hail in some cases as large as three inches in diameter.

We have to get now to CNN's Chad Meyers. Chad, you've been busy this week as well. You and Christine Romans have both had a week. What is going on here?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, the storms that were in Texas are now to a place that is very close to your heart, Baton Rouge. I mean, we're not talking about severe weather right now, but certainly thunder and lightning, make sure the pets are inside, you get inside especially when the lightning is dancing around there. This is the weather we had yesterday, though, 49 reports of hail, nine reports that were bigger than two inches.

Here's a Clementine in parts of Texas. That's how big this hail was. And in Ft. Worth, we were talking bigger than that, three inch hailstones. Weatherford, Ft. Worth, especially in the northern suburbs, that's where the weather was yesterday.

Today, it is a little bit further to the south and not as severe. There may be a land falling water spout. There may be still something with some wind down there. But today has calmed down significantly compared to yesterday. There will be some showers in big cities that want to celebrate St. Patrick's Day today. Maybe take an umbrella or a poncho or whatever you do to stay dry.

LEMON: Yes. Pack your green coat. I did wear green overcoat today.

MYERS: Weathermen can't wear green because we disappear.

LEMON: Yes, I know. We didn't wear it on the air, Kaitlan and I. We're talking about neither of us wore green today. But I do -- I'll show you. I can get my green coat.

COLLINS: I had a green suit on Wednesday. I think that counts.

LEMON: That works, good enough. Thanks, Chad. I appreciate it.

MYERS: You bet.

LEMON: You know, it is a four letter word that is becoming quite the tongue twister for some Republicans. We're unpacking the word woke and what it could mean heading into the 2024 race.

COLLINS: Also, Republican members of the House Oversight Committee in Washington say that they have the receipts. What they're saying now about the Biden family and $1 million payment from a company in China.





NIKKI HALEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Wokeness is a virus more dangerous than any pandemic, hands down.

REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): They were one of the most woke banks in their quest for the ESG-type of policy.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): I think it's all because of the woke mind virus. It is warping people.

We will never, ever surrender to the woke mob. Our state is where woke goes to die.


LEMON: Oh, boy. Well, the hottest fight in the American culture wars right now is over wokeness. Politicians and media figures blame wokeness, for everything from censorship to bank failures. What exactly does it mean to be woke? That means to be -- that term that seems to be hard to define, really even for some of the greatest opponents.

I want you to watch this viral clip of conservative columnist Bethany Mandel struggling with that question. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would you define woke, because this come up a couple of times? I just want to make sure we're on the same page.

BETHANY MANDEL, AUTHOR: So -- I mean, woke is -- sort of the idea that, um, I -- this is going to be one of those moment that goes moments that goes viral. Woke is something that is very hard to define.



LEMON: That was -- Alyssa Farah Griffin joins us now, CNN Political Commentator, former Trump White House Communications Director. Good morning.

We've all been on live television. You lose your train of thought. Someone tries to help you out usually in the moment but it happens. But that was a tough moment, don't you think?

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it sound like the core of one of the arguments that she is making in a book that she writes. So, woke is -- it's kind of become -- remember the dress, where it's like you either you saw it in blue or white? It means something to certain people. There is a Merriam Webster's definition of it, which is being in touch with.

LEMON: You hit it right there, yes.

GRIFFIN: Yes, exactly, and caring about social justice causes and actively involved in them. But to the other half of the country, let's call it, that means something completely different.

I do see why it has been a valuable and energizing rallying cry for the conservative base, because I think how it is generally interpreted is to mean, you know, it's more of a fear of cancel culture. I would say, that's how a lot of, I think, conservatives see it, as if I say something that is even slightly off the, woke mob is going to come and get me. However, it's now turned into something where everything is woke, banks are woke, ESG is woke.

LEMON: I disagree with you. I don't think it's a blue and white dress. I think it's -- listen, we know it came into Michael Brown, which were covered in Ferguson. I think it's -- I know it's something that has been co-opted by conservatives and people who are running for office because it gets a very big response from people like CRT, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

GRIFFIN: Yes, that's definitely right. And I'm not sure that -- I think that word has become devoid of meaning if you use them for everything, and this has become such a catch all term. I think that we're much better as Republicans when we're leaning into something like cancel culture. It is tangible. People get it. If I say one word that is unpopular or I misuse the proper phrase, even if my heart was in the right place, your career could be over the next day. That, I think, is a valid fight that resonates with people. The woke- ism, it is, it's co-opting a term from another community and trying to make it a catch all phrase for things that bother you about the direction of the culture in some way.

COLLINS: And I think it's worth noting that Republicans even view it differently. Not all Republicans are using it in the same way. Like we've seen, you know, Governor DeSantis use it. We've seen Governor Sarah Sanders in Arkansas use it. Vivek Ramaswamy is a candidate. He is running for the Republican nomination for president. I interviewed him recently. And he's had written a whole book called Woke Inc on this. And so I asked him to define how he sees it.


VIVEK RAMASWAMY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm going define it in neutral terms, not in critical terms. Being woke refers to becoming alert to invisible societal injustices generally based on genetically inherited characteristics, like race, sex and sexual orientation, and then being called upon to act on those injustices using whatever potential legal means are necessary, including the market to do it. That's a neutral definition that even most proponents of woke-ism in the United States would agree with.

Now, my criticism of this is I think that it's inherently divisive to tell us that we're nothing more than the characteristics we inherit on the day we're born. That divides us on the basis of race and sex and sexual orientation. And then when that merges with capitalism, which is what I've actually been the biggest critic of, what it does is we lose the sanctuary, the apolitical sanctuary in our economy that otherwise brings us together whether we're black or white, even whether we're Democrat or Republican.


COLLINS: He's essentially saying don't just use it as like a tool, like present an alternative, like affirmative action, vision to it.

GRIFFIN: I mean, that is probably a better definition than I've seen among most Republicans. But even so, I think it goes further than anything that translates into tangible policy positions. And that's where I kind of take issue with. You know, Ron DeSantis is making this sort of the focal point of his soon to come campaign, which is what does it mean to you? I mean, is it the war with Disney? Is it a war with DEI and ESG or is it more about just like cultural norms and the way that we interact with the people around us.

LEMON: Well, he's wrong on that. It is not about defining people for a characteristic. It is being aware. It is being aware of issues that have to do with minorities, destruction of the country, issues that have to do with women, issues that have to do with any marginalized community. That's what it is. It's not defining people. It's being aware of the structural injustices in our society and trying to be better, not trying to cancel people. So, I think that he's wrong on that. And I always tell my friends who, you know, use woke. I'm like, don't use that word. You know, there are certain words, like it's not a good look.

GRIFFIN: Well, if I can be honest, Republican voter and a base voter, I don't actually care about this.

LEMON: It's polling well, right?

GRIFFIN: But I do see why it polls well. I don't think it's going to last. Like, if --

LEMON: You don't?

GRIFFIN: It works in a Republican primary. But then we're going have -- the nature of our country is something that is going to happen that requires you to care and be attentive to social injustices. And then suddenly it's once again going to be invoked to be woke. And I just don't know that I think it's a lasting argument.


COLLINS: I want to switch topics slightly to move on to Pence, because you used to work for the vice president. He came under criticism for a comment he made about Pete Buttigieg when he was making those comments, where he focused really on what he said about January 6th. And Buttigieg -- he was criticizing Pete Buttigieg for taking maternity leave. And Chasten, Pete Buttigieg's husband, said it flies in the face of what he is, family values kind of person. Pence did not apologize. He said not only can Buttigieg do not do his job, he can't take a joke. Did it surprise you that Pence went there with that?

GRIFFIN: Yes. So, I've said this before, because I had asked about it recently. I didn't think the joke landed and I thought the maternity part of it particularly bothered me. It's a father. It's also women had had to fight a lot for getting, you know, paid family leave and those things. The joke didn't land. I also think at the same time we've been to that event. It is a roast. There were anti-LGBTQ undertones to it, which I don't think is wise for Pence who has to make inroads with that community if he, in fact, wants to be a general election candidate. But it was a joke that didn't land.

LEMON: And he has to make inroads with that community because of his history of --

GRIFFIN: Correct.

COLLINS: As governor of Indiana.

GRIFFIN: Well, and I would note --

LEMON: And also now running for office what he said about the LGBTQ community and his tacit support of gay conversion therapy as well, not wanting to put things into law because he says, we shouldn't encourage this type behavior and people should want to -- for people who to change that type of behavior --

GRIFFIN: I remind my party, 67 percent of Republicans believe in rights to support and protect the LGBTQ community, yet we keep boosting politicians who seem to be going backward on gay rights.

COLLINS: Alyssa, thanks for joining us at the table this morning.

LEMON: Thank you.

Alyssa, you'll be interested in this, you folks at home, too, because it sounds like --

COLLINS: I just saw that. I was like --

LEMON: It sounds like a -- remember the 1970s The Blob, a blob -- seriously, a blob of smelly seaweed twice the width of the U.S. headed to Florida's coast. Leyla Santiago live in key west this morning.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning. Take a look behind me. They are cleaning these beaches as we speak because of this stuff that you see here, seaweed, lots of it coming this way, scientists say in record numbers. We'll have that story coming up.