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National Security Council Coordinator Strategic Communications. John Kirby Interviewed about Chinese President Xi Jinping Meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin; Former President Trump Says He Expects to be Arrested in Connection with Hush Money Payments to Stormy Daniels; Former President Trump Still Under Investigation for Possible Election Meddling in Georgia. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired March 20, 2023 - 08:00   ET



JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: Obviously, we want the fighting to stop. We want the war to be over. And as I said, it could end today if Mr. Putin would do the right thing.

But to call for a cease-fire right now basically ratifies what they've been able to grab inside Ukraine and gives them time and space to prepare for future operations, and that's just not going to be acceptable.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: John, do you think this meeting could be a venue where they announce that China may start providing weapons to Ukraine -- or to Russia, to use in Ukraine?

KIRBY: We don't believe it's in China's best interests to do that. We can't -- we can't envision how they would think that it's in their best interests to help Mr. Putin continue to slaughter more innocent Ukrainians. So we don't want to see that. Again, we'll see what these leaders come out with and what they say at the end of these discussions. We're going to watch this very, very closely.

Again, we have communicated privately to the Chinese, we certainly communicated it publicly that that would not be an outcome that's to the betterment, not only of China and their interests, but certainly to the Ukrainian people and to the whole idea of peace.

COLLINS: What does it say to you that after the International Criminal Court issued that arrest warrant for Putin, that, a, Xi did still show up in Russia, clearly did not deter that visit, but also you saw Putin over the weekend in Mariupol, in all of these other cities.

KIRBY: I think, to your first question, I think you've got to keep this relationship in some sort of context here. These are two nations who chafe and bristle at the idea of U.S. leadership or U.S. influence around the world. They don't like playing by the rules that the world order has in place, and they want to challenge U.S. leadership. This is a marriage of convenience, not of affection. These are two countries that don't have a heck of a whole lot of trust between one another, but they find common cause in pushing back on the west and pushing back on American leadership. So again, we'll see what they decide to do when they come out with this.

And as for Mr. Putin's visit to Mariupol, Mariupol is far away from the front lines of the fighting in the south and in the east. It was a convenient excuse for him to go in advance of Xi's visit to show that he's still the commander in chief, that he's still in charge, and that his military still has occupied territory inside Ukraine. There's no doubt that he could see for himself, or we would hope that he would see for himself how badly his military is actually doing where the fighting is actually occurring, and most of that is right up now in the Donbas, near a town called Bakhmut.

COLLINS: The White House wanted President Xi to also speak with President Zelenskyy to get the Ukrainian perspective in this. Any indication that's going to happen?

KIRBY: We haven't seen any confirmation of it. Obviously, President Xi would be the one to announce that if he's going to do it. But we absolutely have been suggesting it for quite some time, and we would love to see that happen. If you're going to go to Moscow and you're going to sit down for three days with President Putin and you're going to get his perspective on a war that he started and that he can finish today, you ought to pick up the phone at the very least and talk to President Zelenskyy and get the Ukrainian perspective here.

What we've been saying from the very beginning, if this comes down to some kind of a negotiated settlement of some sort and some place at some time, it's got to be nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. So Ukraine has got to be central to those discussions. Their perspectives have to be heard and respected. So we absolutely want President Xi to reach out and get a little bit of the views and perspective of Ukraine here.

COLLINS: It's been about a week since President Biden said he was going to speak to President Xi soon. Has that call been scheduled yet, John?

KIRBY: It hasn't been scheduled, Kaitlan, but the president very much wants to have another conversation with President Xi. It's really important we keep these lines of communication open between the United States and China, the most consequential bilateral relationship in the world. The president wants to keep those lines open. We'll do that, and he'll have a call with President Xi at the appropriate time.

COLLINS: What is the appropriate time? Because he said back in mid- February after the U.S. downed that surveillance balloon that he would speak to him soon. He said last week he would speak to him soon. So has the U.S. tried to schedule the call and the Chinese have been unwilling, or what's going on here?

KIRBY: There's been no logistics, there's been no setting it up. We maintain that we're going to have another discussion with President Xi. The president wants to do that, wants to keep those lines open. And at the appropriate time, we'll reach out and we'll see if we can get a call on the schedule. These are two men that also know each other for quite some time when

they were both vice presidents of their respective countries. They had a good meeting in Bali, a good discussion. We'd like to continue that discussion. We'd like to make sure that this bilateral relationship is serving not only the best interests of the American people, but also the world. And this is a relationship that needs to be handled in a responsible, mature way. We want to get back to that. But we're just going to have to wait and do that at the right time.

COLLINS: Speaking of open lines of communication, we're seeing North Korea continue to fire off projectiles. Is it still accurate to say there's been no contact between the Biden administration and North Korea?

KIRBY: Not for lack of trying and not for lack of interest, Kaitlan. We maintain that we would still, without precondition, be willing to sit down with the North Korean regime and try to find a diplomatic way to reduce the nuclear tensions on the peninsula and to see the verifiable denuclearization of North Korea.


But they have yet to show any interest in that whatsoever or any communication whatsoever. Quite the contrary, as you rightly noted, they're firing off ballistic missiles now here, largely in a reaction to U.S. and ROK, Republic of Korea, exercises that we're conducting right now. In fact, I think those exercises are wrapping up.

COLLINS: John Kirby, thanks for your time this morning.

KIRBY: You bet.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: We want to turn now to the possible criminal indictment hanging over the former president Donald Trump. He says that he expects to be arrested as soon as tomorrow in the Manhattan district attorney's probe of hush money payments to Stormy Daniels. And today, Trump's legal team is making a last-minute push to discredit his longtime fixer and star witness, Michael Cohen. Cohen's former lawyer is set to testify before the grand jury. We're told that he came forward and offered evidence to contradict Cohen's claims.

CNN's senior legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid joins us now. Good morning to you, Paula. Thank you so much. What are we expecting today?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: So this is going to be interesting because this is a witness that the Trump team requested the grand jury hear from. Make no mistake, prosecutors are in charge of the grand jury. They didn't have to grant this request, but from an optics perspective, they knew they really had to.

And the Trump team wants this attorney, a former attorney of Michael Cohen. His name is Rob Costello, he represents a lot of Trump allies, Rudy Giuliani, Steve Bannon. He's going to go in there and speak to Cohen's credibility. And that's significant in this investigation, because, of course, Cohen is a star witness here. It is possible that Cohen could be called to rebut his testimony. We know he will also be there at the courthouse today. So he could potentially be called as a rebuttal witness. But we'll see if the grand jury wants to hear from him as well.

Now, Costello told me a few moments ago he's handed over hundreds of documents to the Manhattan district attorney's office, hundreds of e- mails about his former representation of Cohen, and some contemporaneous memos he made of key events during the time he was representing Cohen, and Cohen, of course, waived attorney-client privilege, which Costello says is really unusual.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: The hope from the Trump team here is that Costello will corroborate Michael Cohen's earlier reflections --

REID: Yes --

HARLOW: -- on the hush money payment, that it was all him and only him.

REID: Exactly. There's been an evolution in the narrative of exactly what happened here. And of course, several years ago, Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and other crimes. But he's always insisted more recently that he did all of this at the direction of Donald Trump. So there are absolutely issues with his credibility. He does not like it when that is pointed out. So this is kind of a provocative move on the Trump team's part.

COLLINS: You spoke to a Trump attorney yesterday talking about what this is going to look like. What'd she tell you?

REID: Yes, so I talked to one of his attorneys, Alina Habba, she does not represent him in the Manhattan D.A.'s investigation, but she represents him in other matters. And I've asked for someone to come out and talk about his Truth Social posts. And so I really tried to drill down on this call for protests. We know from our reporting he's speculating about an arrest tomorrow, and I asked her, is he speculating about an arrest to incite political violence by calling people to protest and take back the country? Here's what she said.


ALINA HABBA, TRUMP LAWYER: It is going to cause mayhem, Paula. It's just a very scary time in our country. If this is what we're doing in this country, you better secure the premises, because it's dangerous. People are going to get upset.


REID: There was an opportunity there to tamp down the rhetoric, but clearly, the Trump team, as we know our colleagues are reporting, they believe that an indictment could help him politically, so they're clearly ramping up the rhetoric around any potential indictment.

COLLINS: Yes. We're still waiting to see what this even looks like, if it even happens this week. We don't know. We should note, Trump said -- and as we were talking about earlier, Trump said on Saturday he was going to be arrested tomorrow. He's going to be indicted. He's not going to just be like arrested at Mar-a-Lago. And we actually don't know when that's going to happen. We were told by Trump's team they never got a heads up from the D.A.'s office. That's not based on --

REID: You're exactly right. His own team came out and publicly said, look, we haven't been informed of anything. And we know from our reporting, there is nothing expected tomorrow. But again, we don't know what's going to happen and we continue to report it out.

LEMON: And they're still seeing witnesses, and just reported, right?

REID: From the Trump team. So how they got the Tuesday timing, it appears speculative. And that's what we asked the lawyer, is he speculating to fundraise and incite political violence? We didn't quite get an answer.

LEMON: And of course, blaming it all on, saying the leaks coming from the office. But there's no indication or evidence of that at all. That's why he's saying he's going to be arrested, according to him.

REID: Yes. A lot of accusations of leaks from all sides. We know different people leak, but in this case, his own team says he was going off of press reports, and he's clearly speculating.

HARLOW: Paula, thank you very much.

Don, you have new reporting. This is on the second case involving Trump.

LEMON: It's the second case, and this is out of Fulton County, Georgia, and the charges that he might face there. And they are not specifically naming him, but you have to read into what the sources are saying and exactly what the charges are.


I spoke with a source with knowledge of the investigation, and here's what they say. That source says, "Prosecutors are thinking about bringing racketeering and conspiracy charges in connection with Donald Trump's effort to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia." They have been looking at phone calls, looking e-mails, texts, documents, testimony from inside and outside the state. Why is this important? Because the source says it underscores the idea that the push for Trump was not just an organic grassroots effort inside of the state.

Now, remember, investigators have at least three recordings of the former president pressuring Georgia officials, including this one.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: So, look, all I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have, because we won the state.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LEMON: That phone call is as shocking as the first time you heard it, every time you hear it. It's just as shocking. So why the potential racketeering charges? They allow prosecutors to bring charges against multiple defendants. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis could use the law to try to make the case that Trump and his allies were part of a criminal enterprise. And Willis likes using RICO charges, which were originally designed tyke to take down the mafia. This is what she said about it over the summer, this is in an unrelated case. Listen to this.


FANI WILLIS, FULTON COUNTY, GEORGIA, DISTRICT ATTORNEY: And the reason that I am a fan of RICO is I think jurors are very, very intelligent. They want to know what happened. They want to make an accurate decision about someone's life. And so RICO is a tool that allows a prosecutor's office and law enforcement to tell the whole story.


LEMON: We should say, of course, that Trump denies any criminal wrongdoing, claims that Willis is -- her investigation is politically biased. My source says that the D.A. could make decisions on the charges this spring, so expect them soon, first day of spring today. "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution" recently spoke to five grand jurors anonymously. One of them said, and I quote here, "A lot is going to come out sooner or later, and it's going to be massive. It is going to be massive."

So you have all of this playing out as the D.A. in Manhattan is gearing up to do whatever he's going to do or not going to do. Trump out there, as your reporting says, saying that he's going to be arrested on Tuesday. But then the one that most people believe, that he faces the biggest threat would be the one in Georgia, has the biggest legal ramifications for him.

COLLINS: Yes, he's facing so many investigations. It is important to keep that in mind. This is the most public one right now, it's at the forefront, what's happening here in Manhattan. But there are many others behind the scenes.

LEMON: Yes, many others. And we'll be following all of them. And we'll see what happens this week in Manhattan, if anything. But you heard the D.A.'s office say, they are ready for it. Law enforcement said they're ready for any possible unrest if that does happen.

COLLINS: And speaking of that, we have this video that we just got moments ago. This is the New York Police Department. They're installing security cameras on light posts. That is outside the Manhattan criminal courthouse. So, for perspective on this as what we are seeing here with these officers right now as they are preparing for what could potentially happen this week, I want to bring in Jonah Goldberg, CNN political commentator and cofounder and editor in chief of "The Dispatch," and David Axelrod, our CNN senior political commentator and host of "The Axe Files." Jonah, you're watching this video that we have right here of the New

York Police Department. They are putting cameras on light poles outside the courthouse in anticipation of what could happen. What do you think Republicans should be saying publicly about how the response should happen if Trump is actually indicted this week?

JONAH GOLDBERG, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I actually think it's a fine line for them to try and walk here because, on the one hand, I think they should be much more vocal, much more outspoken about saying there's no need for violence, there's no need to take the law into your own hands, while at the same time, I think it's perfectly legitimate to criticize this -- the reportedly -- the indictment that is reportedly coming out of Bragg's office, because I do think it is a deeply flawed thing.

But just taking a step back, listening to Adam Kinzinger earlier and all the commentary and reporting you've had so far, I think one of the things that people need to keep in mind is that Donald Trump broke a lot of norms. He broke a lot of rules, he tested the system, he violated the good faith and understanding of how government and public officials are supposed to work. And that elicited from a lot of people the same response back.

And now we are in the sort of situation where people say, well, he breaks the rules so we can break the rules to go get him. And I think that is the kind of banana republic logic that we're seeing unfolding where Trump is now basically a wink and a nod, saying you're allowed to go mob the courthouse. He's not going to say it outright, but that's the subtext of it. And the response to that is going to be a sort of more lawless thing as well. In this really dysfunctional dynamic that we're in.


COLLINS: David, what do you think as you're watching this?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, first of all, I don't know -- I don't want to comment too deeply on a case we don't know exactly what the District Attorney is going to do.

I suspect that of all the investigations that are going on about Donald Trump, that he probably would want this one to go first, because it's the weakest, just on the facts.

I don't know that the American people are as deeply concerned about what he did with/for/to Stormy Daniels, and around that, then some of the other charges like the one down in Georgia, and what he really wants to do is color this as a series of political prosecutions.

I will say this, if I were his lawyers, and I were defending against the investigation about the insurrection, I would not be thrilled about the e-mail that he sent out or the post that he made over the weekend suggesting that people get out in the streets and take the country back because that is part of the pattern that they are investigating in the other case. And my guess is, they're saying, well, this is -- this only supports

what we believe happened back on January 6th. So I don't think he helped himself there.

But what he did do was send a dog whistle to Republican politicians, and some of them reacted in Pavlovian fashion, including the Speaker of the House, and this is what Trump ultimately wants. He wants all of these cases to be cast as political prosecutions, and he wants Republicans to line up behind him.

COLLINS: Well, and Jonah, to that point, we did hear from people like the former Vice President Mike Pence, who has been critical of Trump in recent weeks, as we've talked about, but you know, he said, this feels like a politically charged prosecution.

You know, what I noticed over the weekend is we didn't hear from people like Governor DeSantis, Nikki Haley. They've decided not to weigh in. It's interesting to see who is commenting among the potential 2024 candidates and who isn't?

GOLDBERG: No, I agree, it is difficult not to cut on this thing if you're another Republican candidate, because on the one side, you don't want to get crosswise with an angry base, even though I think the bases are crazy to be as angry as it is about something. While at the same time, you don't want to lend aid and cover and take all your direction from the guy you're running against in a Republican primary.

I do think it is remarkable as somebody who actually thought that, like what Bill Clinton did, you know, with Monica Lewinsky was a bad thing. You don't see anybody saying, "Why I never -- I cannot believe you would even insinuate that Donald Trump would have anything to do with a porn star," right?

I mean, it is all this sort of kabuki theater about process and not giving the other side a win and we're being treated unfairly, whereas conservatives are supposed to actually care about like things like adultery and character and that's all gone out the window.

COLLINS: Yes, I feel like we're very far past that. The shock value of that has gone away given since we learned about it.

David, final word to you, though, on just how unprecedented this is. The fact that we are even talking about a former President being indicted, regardless of what, you know, legal experts think of the strength of the case, the idea that we could actually see him going and being taken in, having to present himself, being fingerprinted. It's remarkable.

AXELROD: Yes. It is remarkable and it's sad, but it is consistent with what we've seen over these years as Jonah mentioned. I mean, Donald Trump has serially sundered, rules, laws, norms, and institutions since he came down that escalator, and this is the predictable result of that.

And you know, the danger is that the institution that he's now going to center or continue to sunder is our legal system and try and cast everything that holds him accountable for his actions, not just on this case, but on all the others that go much more to the operations of government and democracy, that he is going to cast them all as politically motivated, and large numbers of Americans in his base, are going to accept and embrace that and a large number of Republican politicians are going to embrace that. That's terrible for our country.

And that is the big danger here to me, is that somehow he turns this in a political way to his advantage and to the great detriment of our democracy.

COLLINS: Yes, only time will tell we'll see whether it is politically advantageous. Jonah Goldberg, David Axelrod, thank you both for joining us this morning.

GOLDBERG: Thank you.

AXELROD: Good to be with you.


LEMON: It is interesting, Kaitlan, we were watching the men -- the NYPD put up those cameras downtown in front of the courthouse and that someone who has knowledge of these events said, "The Manhattan DA must use every tool in his arsenal to control the criminal defendant, including contempt, obstruction, interference or witness tampering, just like the Federal prosecutors are using every tool within their arsenal to control Sam Bankman-Fried."

They will have to treat him and whatever he is doing just like any other defendant, so any other person who is being charged with a crime so that's going to be interesting to play out to watch play out here.

COLLINS: Yes. That's what it looks like.


So this morning, shares in Credit Suisse have plunged after it agreed to a takeover from rival Swiss bank, UBS, what it could mean for your finances here at home.


HARLOW: A historic deal made in an effort to ease the global banking crisis, Zurich-based banking giant, UBS is buying Credit Suisse for $3.2 billion. This is a deal negotiated by the Swiss government. It's essentially a fire sale of Credit Suisse.

And this morning, shares in Credit Suisse have plunged 62 percent. Shares of UBS also lower by about eight percent at the open there in Europe.

The move comes as major financial institutions continue to grapple with the recent failures of two US regional banks at Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank.

So let's bring in anchor and CNN chief business correspondent, Christine Romans and CNN Business reporter, Matt Egan.

Guys, thank you so much.




HARLOW: It is stunning to follow all weekend. I saw the FT first reporting and thought it was going to be just $2 billion and it ended up at $3 billion without any approval by the shareholders of Credit Suisse. You just get wiped out.


ROMANS: Yes, and this is a hundred and sixty-seven year old bank that, by the way, is one of just 30 banks in the world that are considered, you know, globally important. There are ties to every kind of economy in every kind of industry, so it's a really big deal to be bought by UBS.

Essentially, it's a rescue purchase of this company with all kinds of backing from the Swiss National Bank and the Swiss government to make sure it goes through.

It had its own problems, right? A lot of problems getting up to this point, but it is the current period of fragility and a lack of confidence in the banking system that kind of tipped it over the edge.

EGAN: It's so amazing, because I feel like regulators really around the world, they're just going from like weakest link in the system to weakest link in the system, trying to put out fires right before it spreads.

What's crazy, though, is that UBS didn't want to buy Credit Suisse, right? Credit Suisse has been a mess for years, but regulators basically forced UBS or strongly persuaded them to do this.

I mean, this would be like Roger Goodell, trying to get the New England Patriots to buy my beloved New York Jets because they just keep losing and it's bad for the league. Right? And the Patriots say, sure. The Patriots say sure, but you guys have to sweeten the deal because we don't want to lose money on it. That's kind of where we are.

HARLOW: Why does this matter for anyone at home this morning?

ROMANS: Stability is what we're searching for here, and that is why it matters. I mean, there is the opposite of confidence is fear, and we have a fundamentally strong banking system way better today than it was in 2008.

We've got all these backstops, but if you don't have confidence, and you have fear in the bank system, then that starts to unravel, you know, the groundwork, so they're just trying to get confidence back in the system.

I talked to an economist today who used to run TARP, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the bank bailout from, you know, ten, twelve years ago, she said, this is going to take weeks or maybe even months to sort out. I mean, that's -- we're kind of in the early innings, I think of finding that stable ground again in banking.

HARLOW: One bit of good news that you reported over the weekend, Matt, is that the smaller and midsize US banks actually saw a little bit of stabilization. So not too many outflows, not as many depositors pulling their cash out, because they're freaked out.

EGAN: Right, and that is really important. You know, more important even than what the share prices are doing, which they've been on a rollercoaster ride, but US officials are really paying attention to the deposits, because some of these banks, obviously Signature Bank, Silicon Valley Bank, and others, so really big amounts of cash being taken out.


EGAN: And so a US official over the weekend telling CNN that these withdrawals from banks, from the small and midsized ones have either slowed, or flattened out, or even some of them have reversed. And that, of course, is exactly what US officials want to see.

HARLOW: What about what Central Banks announced yesterday, which is basically a lot of Central Banks around the world coming together to do what?

ROMANS: Sure. so this is usually every week, there's this period, a window that opens for these liquidity dollar swaps, right?

HARLOW: Right.

ROMANS: So it makes sure the dollars are in the system, they're opening that window every day now. So, it just means there are going to be more dollars available for all of these banks to make sure that they have the money to meet the deposit.

So it's just -- it's helping liquidity of the system. It's a vote of confidence, but also showing that Central Banks, all of those Central Banks are going to be available to make sure that the plumbing is working in the banking system.

You know, we've seen that that facility that the Fed opened, a lot of money has been borrowed, and we won't know who those banks are for some time, for obvious reasons, right? You don't want to know who is tapping the emergency supplies of loans, but that's been used a lot.

So there is a lot out there to shore up the system.

EGAN: And here is why it's so important to shore up the system, right? I mean, at the end of the day, it's not necessarily about deposits in the bank, right? Because we know that safe up to the $250,000.00 FDIC limit per bank per borrower. It's really about what this does to the economy.

Because more fear in the system means more expensive loans, right, harder to get a mortgage, harder to get a car loan, more expensive small businesses, and all of that can slow down the economy and the worry is that you know, this banking crisis could be the spark for the next recession. Hopefully it doesn't happen.

HARLOW: Let's hope not. Matt Egan and Christine, Romans Thank you very much. We appreciate it.

EGAN: Thank you.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

COLLINS: Okay, also this morning, California bracing for even more flooding -- the last thing anybody there wants to hear -- after they were slammed with no less than 12, yes, 12 catastrophic rainstorms.

We are live on the ground.

LEMON: And Vladimir Putin making a surprise visit to Russian occupied Mariupol, the same city where hundreds of Ukrainian civilians were killed as they sheltered inside a theater. One survivors saying Putin's visit is like a serial killer returning to the scene of a crime.