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CNN This Morning

Chinese President Xi Jinping Meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin; Talks Underway for Chinese President Xi Jinping to Meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy; Former President Trump May Be Indicted for Inappropriate Financial Records Related to Hush-Money Payments to Stormy Daniels; Public School Workers Go On Strike in Los Angeles. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired March 21, 2023 - 08:00   ET



KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: The entire world is watching because it could have big implications for what's happening in Ukraine. This just into CNN, a senior Ukrainian official says discussions are underway to organize a call between Xi and CNN President Zelenskyy. That would be the first conversation between those two leaders. And in a competing display of support, we are also seeing the Japanese prime minister on the ground in Kyiv right now as this meeting in Russia is going on.

We have live team coverage with correspondents in Russia, Ukraine, and Taiwan. We want to start this morning with CNN's senior international correspondent Matthew Chance in Moscow. Matthew, you have this new reporting about a potential call between the leader of China and President Zelenskyy. This is something the White House had been wanting to make happen. What else are you learning about when this call could happen?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's going to be pretty soon, according to the sources I have spoken to inside Ukraine. But nothing concrete, I have been told, by a senior official, has yet been scheduled. And so look, it's still very much in the it could possibly happen stage. If it does happen, as you mentioned, it would be the first time that President Zelenskyy of Ukraine has spoken with Xi Jinping.

And that contrasts starkly with the amount of contact there has been between the Chinese and Russian presidents. It's been more than 40 occasions that they have had face-to-face meetings. The latest one of those occasions is scheduled to take place anytime now within the next few minutes they are expected to meet inside the Kremlin for formal negotiations how to bring these two increasingly autocratic countries even closer together.

Remember, Russia is an important resource for China's economy. It's got massive reserves of oil and gas and a forestry of minerals and things like that that it is supplying increasingly to China. And for Russia, China is an economic lifeline at a time when international sanctions have cut off supply routes to the westerly directions. So they are in this sort of increasingly close alliance between these two countries. Military aid is something the Russians desperately need from China,

ammunition for the battlefield to push the front lines forward from their point of view. That's something China has held back from so far, but behind closed doors, there is suspicion that that could still be discussed.

But front and center of the diplomatic meeting on this occasion is this Chinese proposal for a peace plan to end what they call the crisis in Ukraine. It calls for talks between Ukraine and Russia, but it does stop short of demanding that Russia pull out of the territories that it's already conquered. And that's why there is so much skepticism in Ukraine and the west.

COLLINS: Yes, this breaking news is just remarkable, that they are working to get Xi and Zelenskyy on the phone. What would Zelenskyy -- and you have been reporting and talking to so many Ukrainian officials since this invasion began -- where would Zelenskyy even start, do you think, with the Chinese president?

CHANCE: Well, I mean, first of all, China is an important country for Ukraine as well. It would much remember be engaged under Chinese mediation with some sort of peace process than see the Chinese go full on over to Russia's side and start providing Russia with battlefield technology and with ammunition and munitions and things like that because that could really turn the tide of the war against Ukraine in Russia's favor and the Ukrainians desperately want to avoid that. But of course, the negotiating position, as far as I understand it, from Ukraine has not changed. They are saying that they will not settle for any territorial losses when it comes to a final settlement of this conflict.

COLLINS: Yes. Remarkable reporting. Matthew Chance, thank you. Keep us updated.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: And as we wait for that meeting with international coverage here, I want to bring now senior international correspondents Will Ripley in Taiwan, Ivan Watson joins us from Kharkiv. Good morning to both of you. So, Ivan, as a relationship between Russia and China grows, it's a need for stronger weapons in Ukraine, is that much louder now?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We are hearing a constant drumbeat from Ukraine's western allies of new support coming to this government and to its military. The European Commission just announced 1.5 billion euros in aid today coming to Ukraine. Yesterday the Biden administration announce $350 million worth of ammunition as the European Union, some 17 countries plus Norway, announced a million rounds of artillery ammunition that it was going to rush to Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainians are saying, yes, we need every bit of equipment and ammunition that we can get. And if you travel around front line areas, even with all this assistance coming in, Don, you will be struck to see how many Ukrainian troops are moving around in ordinary civilian vehicles or talking about the difficulty that they have to get something as simple as a rifle, or that there is still fundraisers and kind of GoFundMe attempts to try to pay for the commercial drones that the Ukrainian different battalions and companies are using on the front lines that is essential to protect them from Russian troops, to conduct surveillance, and so on.


So there is this race to try to keep the Ukrainian military equipped even as it continues to suffer enormous losses on the battlefield in this conventional war of attrition against a much larger enemy.

LEMON: But they know that time -- I mean, time is not on the side of Ukraine here, and they are worried about just how long this extends, Ivan?

WATSON: They are. And as we're monitoring the visit of the Chinese leader to Moscow right now, Don, we have this kind of split screen moment happening, too, where you have another important Asian leader, the Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida, who has made his own surprise visit just today arriving by train from Poland in Kyiv to meet with the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy with a message from Tokyo that Japan is all in to support Ukraine in this war against Russia. That Japan is condemning Russia's invasion a little bit more than a year ago and its declared annexation of territories that it has occupied here.

And I think what we're seeing here is that while the Chinese leader is declaring his friendship with the Russian president and also talking about peace, that Ukraine's western allies, which include countries like Japan, are saying we are all in with Ukraine. You want to support Russia? We are going to keep running weapons and finances to Ukraine in this existential war against Russia.

COLLINS: Yes, and, Will, we've seen President Xi -- obviously, he is in Russia. He has now invited Putin to come to China. He has called him his dear friend. That is quite the context and the background if you are going to see Zelenskyy getting on the phone with the Chinese president next.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, because, obviously, those are two very different conversations. Putin and Xi praising each other, holding these lavish events for each other. Meanwhile, President Xi on the phone with President Zelenskyy will have to convince him that China's 12-point peace plan is somehow a good deal for Ukraine even though it involves, it ends western sanctions, negotiations that would see Ukraine giving up territory that Russia stole, and even a NATO pullback from eastern borders along with reconstruction efforts that probably would benefit the Chinese themselves, Chinese contractors.

And so that's going to be a hard sell. But as Ivan mentioned and others have mentioned, Ukraine does need China on its side because there are huge trading partner. So it really does put Ukraine in a pretty difficult position. They get a lot of support from democracies, certainly they have support from here in Taiwan where the foreign minister just today tweeted out that this is really hypocrisy that Putin and Xi claim to talk about peace when Putin is doing what he is doing in Ukraine and Xi has his ambitions for Taiwan. COLLINS: Remarkable scene setting there, also that split screen.

Will, Ivan, we want you to stay with us, stay close, because we are going to wait for this meeting to start. We're going to be tracking that live.

Also here this morning, as Don was noting, police are on high alert not just in New York City, also in Washington after former President Trump called on his supporters to protest and, quote, take our nation back. Trump claimed he would be indicted and arrested today in the investigation of the hush-money payments to the adult film actress Stormy Daniels. No indication yet that is actually happening today, but it does come as the New York Police Department has told all of its officers to be in uniform and ready to deploy starting today. That's according to an internal memo that was obtained by CNN.

Manhattan's district attorney hasn't actually said if and when criminal charges are coming, but a source close to the Trump legal team says they doesn't expect it to actually happen or an initial appearance before next week.

So joining us now is CNN legal analyst and former assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, who knows this well, Elie Honig. He's also the author of the book, "Untouchable, How Powerful People Get Away with It," which is out now and highly relevant, obviously, to everything we are talking about.


ELIE HONIG, SENIOR CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Who knew I was breaking this kind of news?

LEMON: And do you have any news to break on the timing?

HONIG: No, but I can tell you how it works. When you are done putting your witnesses in front of the grand jury, which it now appears you are, now you're at the phase where you're going to present a potential indictment to the grand jurors as a prosecutor. It's just the prosecutor and the grand jurors in the room. What you do is you lay out the charges that you want them to consider. You give them a summary of the evidence they have heard, and then leave the room, they vote, and you tell them if you have questions, I'll come back in. When you're done, knock on the door. You hear that knock coming from inside the room, 99 percent of the time they say here is your indictment. Maybe one percent of the time they say no bill, as we call it.

COLLINS: Yes, but the indictment is pretty widely expected. We're still waiting, Trump's team is as well, to get word that this is actually happening.


As that is happening, though, you have been probably one of the most vocal people. This is a risk for Alvin Bragg to take. It is not a slam dunk for him. But he is moving ahead with it because? Is it the other risk that it's a testament to the idea that no one's above the law? If a crime was committed here, and they have evidence of that? HONIG: I can see that both ways. I see three times of risk here.

First of all, the conduct that we are talking about I think a lot of people see is not that serious. It's not even hush-money payments to a porn star. It's the way the Trump Organization booked in hush-money payment on their internal books. I don't know the proper way to book a payment to a porn star, but they put it as legal fees. So that's the conduct. That's pretty low on the caliber of what types of crime --

COLLINS: Because it wasn't actually a legal fee.

HONIG: It wasn't actually a legal fee.

Then there's the evidentiary problem. The key evidentiary issue here is not that Donald Trump knows hush-money was paid. That's not a crime. It's did Donald Trump know that those payments were booked that way? And if you listen to Michael Cohen's recording that he made, remember, he recorded Donald Trump, he says in that -- they are talking about Karen McDougal, the other case. But Michael Cohen says to Trump, Trump is like how are we going to do this. And Michael Cohen says Allen Weisselberg and I are going to handle that part of it. Don't worry. And then -- so those are the first two. And then you're talking about the timing of it. This is six-and-a-half years later. And I think it begs the question, why now?

LEMON: So Elie, I have heard from others that this is essentially a sort of crime that involves a paper trail.


LEMON: And paperwork or paper trail crimes are very easy to prove. So you are saying it's going to be difficult, but wouldn't the bar be really low to prove that? Just follow the trail?

HONIG: I disagree with that. I've heard that statement from, I think, a mutual friend of ours. It's easy to prove the paper crime if the person's name is on the paper. Here the paper trail can show us exactly how this payment was made, exactly how Michael Cohen was reimbursed, and exactly how they booked it. But I would be shocked if the paperwork showed is a direct link to Donald Trump. If there is an email, text, or memo where Donald Trump says, yes, guys, do it this way, or I'd like you to do it this way, that's a smoking gun. But short of that, the paperwork is an important part of the story, but just saying it's a paper case, there's a paper trail, doesn't necessarily get you to the core issue of the defendant or the potential defendant's criminal liability.

LEMON: Just real quickly, there's also we were watching Georgia, the -- according to a source, Fani Willis is looking this RICO. Not her. She is saying that she in past cases she likes to use the RICO statute. But isn't there a separated RICO statute --

HONIG: Which is racketeering.

LEMON: Yes, which is racketeering, here in New York that can be used in this case with Donald Trump now with Alvin Bragg? HONIG: Yes. So RICO is just and racketeer influence corrupt

organizations. RICO and racketeering are basically the same thing. There is a federal RICO law, and virtually every state, definitely including New York, definitely including Georgia, have their own versions of the RICO statute. And what that is is a powerful tool for prosecutors where you can show this was an organization, a group of people working together to commit a pattern, repeated criminal offenses.

LEMON: All right, we'll see. Everybody is standing by watching and waiting. Thank you, Elie Honig, I appreciate that.

In the meantime, this morning 30,000 school workers in Los Angeles are walking off the job. Bus drivers, cafeteria workers, janitors, other support staff won't be showing up for work, and classes for more than half-a-million kids have been canceled. The three-day strike comes after nearly a year of failed contract negotiations between the union and the country's second largest school district. Let's head now to Nick Watt live in Los Angeles. Wow, early for a crowd. Good morning to you. What do workers want here? What's going on, Nick?

NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what they want, that kind of depends on who you ask. You know, Don, there were supposed to be last-ditch talks late yesterday. Those talks were abandoned before they even began. That might give you an indication as to how far apart these sides are. And less than 12 hours later, as you mentioned, very early on a filthy wet morning here in Los Angeles, we have a picket line outside a bus depot.

These workers say they want better conditions, more money, and most of all, they say respect.


WATT (voiceover): More than half-a-million kids will not be going to school today. The second largest district in the nation, more than 1,000 schools in all, shut down by this strike called by the union that reps the bus drivers, cafeteria workers, special ed assistants, and custodians, like Jose (ph) Tovar (ph), whose current wage puts him below the poverty line.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not asking for the world, but just to live above water.

MAX ARIAS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, SEI LOCAL 99: One in three of our members is either homeless or has been houseless while working for L.A. USD.

WATT (voiceover): The union is demanding large pay hikes, more full- time jobs, more staff, and, quote, "respectful treatment." Some parents are sympathetic.

JENNA SCHWARZ, PARENT: We have some of our most underpaid workers doing some of the most challenging jobs on our campuses.

[08:15:00] WATT (voiceover): The district made an offer including a pay rise but only half the 30 percent demanded.

ALBERTO M. CARVAHALHO, SUPERINTENDENT, LOS ANGELES UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT: Under California law, we cannot drive the school system into a bankruptcy position, and if we were to acquiesce to all the demands, that is exactly where we would be. That is not legally allowable.

WATT (voiceover): So, half a million kids don't go to school, while the adults argue.

MIKE BERNSTEIN, PARENT: I support my kids and ultimately, I feel that they're probably being left behind in a battle between adults.

WATT (voiceover): Apparently, it's gotten ugly. The district calls this strike, illegal claiming it's all about the money, not the other stuff. Union leaders deny that and claim during this whole process, "The district subjected workers to surveillance, intimidation, and harassment."

MAX ARIAS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, SEI LOCAL 99: Some have been harassed to the point where they've lost their job, they've lost income.

CARVALHO: We have not been presented with compelling evidence that there's widespread abuses. Are there issues? Yes, each one of them is vigorously investigated, and consequences are applied.

WATT (voiceover): During the strike, there will be some childcare provided at a few schools and parks and box lunches for the many who rely on free school meals. The Union claims 96 percent of its 30,000 or so members who work in the district voted for this. A strike scheduled to last three days. So, barring any breakthroughs, there's no school till Friday.


WATT (on camera): And these picketers have been out here since about 4:30 this morning. You mentioned, Don, that the teacher's union asking its members to also strike in sympathy. Now, the teachers themselves went on strike back in 2019 for six days and they did win some concessions, better conditions, smaller classes and little pay rise. Now, what is going to happen here? We don't know, the strike is on for three days. What happens if there's no resolution after that? We just don't know yet. We'll be waiting and watching, Don?

LEMON: And you're maybe out there covering 4:30 in the morning these crowds. Thank you, Nick Watt, appreciate that.

WATT: Yes.

COLLINS: All right, this is not a quote many people expected to hear from the mayor of Miami Beach. We don't want spring break. Miami Beach officials are hoping to put it into the weekends of chaos they have been saying, what are we going to do about it? We're actually going to ask the mayor, he's on the program next.



LEMON: So, we want to show you what we're monitoring here, obviously, two big stories at this hour. If you look at your screen, this is -- this are live pictures as a matter of fact. This is a House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is on stage in Orlando. It's at an issues conference Republican issues conference there. We're going to monitor to see what he has to say about a possible indictment of the former President Trump. Also, we're going to get some live pictures now. You can see Xi -- China's President Xi Jinping about to meet with Vladimir Putin, there.

Looking at live pictures from Moscow at the Kremlin. That meeting should happen at any moment. We're going to bring that to you live to see if they -- what happens there. So, we're watching Orlando and we're also watching Moscow this morning, domestic and international news here on CNN. Now, we want to take you to Miami because the city of Miami Beach is sending a simple message to spring breakers. That messages don't come, and it's all because of an eruption of violence over the weekend.


LEMON (voiceover): A visitor recorded this video from his hotel room window of Friday night's deadly shooting. Firefighters had to hose blood off the street and South Beach after his second deadly shooting, earlier Sunday morning. Miami Beach issued a state of emergency and a midnight curfew Sunday night due to the violence in the rowdy crowds but last night, the City Council rejected a curfew for this weekend. The mayor Dan Gelber says that, we don't want spring break in our city. That's a quote from him and he joins me now.


LEMON (on camera): Good morning, Mayor, thank you so much. I appreciate it.


LEMON: Obvious question, why don't you want it?

GELBER: Well, spring break, spring break is just not something that almost any city in Florida has wanted. Young, really unruly, hard to control, you know, people coming into your city, in our case, 10s of thousands in a small area. Sometimes it's just unruly but as it's happened over the weekend, sometimes it's much worse than that it's violent if not deadly. And we had two deaths in two days. We're a residential community, you know, so, for us this is just not something we can endure.

LEMON: But that there is no curfew this weekend. Do you think there should be?

GELBER: Absolutely, you know, I think we had a pretty boisterous meeting last night and by a vote of four to three, I was on the losing side. Our Commission decided not to extend the curfew to this weekend. I think they were swayed by the bars and club representatives that pack the commission meeting. And I think they hope and believe, this weekend will be better. I am not in line with that, I don't like. I hope and pray as well, I don't think that's a plan. I think curfew is a plan and I think we needed to take stronger action.

LEMON: All right, considering your -- what you just said here, CNN spoke to the owner of a Miami Beach Hotel. That owner blames the city and elected officials who are beholden to the night, nightlife industry listen.


MITCH NOVICK, OWNER, SHERBROOKE HOTEL: The blasting music, the dance performances that a handful of businesses used to exploit the public realm. The fact that the city says sets up multiple stages and has D.J.s and bands. We embrace the spring break atmosphere.


LEMON: Your response?

GELBER: Yes, we'll -- we don't embrace the spring break happens, we don't advertise or, you know, take it unlike other cities in Florida, like the Lauderdale that created the spring break and then ran away from it. We never asked for it, we just simply tried to police it. We bring in more police into our city than is imaginable on ATVs on horses. We have goodwill in badges, we try everything we can to control the crowds but they're just simply too many of them to control. And often, when you have that many people just a few acted in a way that is not simply chaotic, but sometimes criminal, and that has been our challenge.


So, I don't disagree with everything, and Mitch said, I just think that we understand what the problem is. It's too many people, too many young people, too much disorder, and really an inability to control. Those two Don, those two murders happened within steps of police officers. They were there within seconds, arrests were made within minutes. But when you have that many policing, you cannot deter crime like that. Then you have a public safety issue and you cannot balance that with bar receipts, frankly. So, for me, it's a binary choice. If we cannot keep our streets safe in this particular area at this time, then we shouldn't have people there after midnight.

LEMON: All right, mayor of Miami Beach, Dan Gelber, thank you very much.

COLLINS: Yes, lots of developments happening there that they have to deal with.


COLLINS: Also this morning, we're tracking Putin and Xi now meeting at the Kremlin. This is a big meeting that the world has really been watching our CNN, Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance, there. We can see the two leaders greeting one another in the Grand Kremlin Palace. Obviously, we know they're going to St. George's Hall, they're going to have these meetings today. Matthew, what are you watching for on the second day of talks between Xi and Putin?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kaitlan, this is -- this is the formal segments of the official state visit. You can see the two leaders there, Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin standing sort of attention as the national anthems of their countries are played. There's a high degree of ceremony around this, it is such a symbolic moment for Russia. Because this comes, you know, it's the first time Xi Jinping has been here since then -- since the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. It's just a few days since Vladimir Putin was indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

And so, this is very symbolic show of support for China -- from China, for Russia. Russia is an important resource for China. It gets its oil and gas from here increasingly and, you know, has a growing trade relationship with Russia. It's an important lifeline from Moscow's point of view, particularly because the sanctions trying to strangle the Russian economy from elsewhere in the world. And so, these two people have been countries have been thrust together in this increasingly deepening alliance. Behind closed doors, is expected to be discussions about further economic development between the two countries bringing them closer together with more economic ties.

But also, possibly the provision of Chinese military aid to Russia, it needs weapons, it needs ammunition on the battlefield to Ukraine, where it's been running short. China has stopped short of providing that so far, but, you know, that could change something people are very closely watching. But also, this issue of the Chinese peace plan for Ukraine, which has been discussed already during a four-hour meeting yesterday between the two leaders here in Moscow. We've learned from a senior Ukrainian official this morning, that discussions are now underway between the Chinese and Ukrainian governments for a phone call between the Chinese and Ukrainian leaders to discuss that peace proposal.

It's nothing's concrete yet we're told but if it goes ahead, it would be the first time that Chinese and Ukrainian presidents have had a conversation that contrasts starkly with the relationship between the two leaders. We can see on our screens right now, they've met each other face to face more than 40 times. It is one of the closest international relationships, if not the closest that Russia actually has right now. And so, again, very symbolic that Russia from his point of view here with Xi Jinping, at the side of its president, showing the world that it's not isolated, at least it has China on its side.

LEMON: Interesting that they have met 40 times and that they're trying to encourage this phone call between Zelenskyy and Xi. Something John Kirby at the White House is encouraged, as well. But it's interesting to watch, this is more than just it's about support optically. Obviously, Vladimir Putin wants to see support on an international level for himself. He's not getting that obviously from NATO and Western nations, but also, they need the money, they need the resources as well that China could possibly provide. Matthew Chance, thank you so much.

COLLINS: Also, this morning, there's a new bombshell lawsuit surrounding Fox News. A producer now claiming she was misleadingly coached manipulated and coerced. Those are quotes by the network's legal team.

LEMON: And Kaitlan, we were just watching what's happening at the Kremlin. Another live picture now coming out of Orlando, Florida at this issues conference where Republicans were monitoring the House Speaker Kevin McCarthy about to address Republicans. They're at a party retreat in that city.