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New Details in the Russia Investigation; Donald Trump, a President Who Needs to be Reined In; Kevin Hart Will No Longer Be

December 10, 2018

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<Head: New Details in the Russia Investigation; Donald Trump, a

President Who Needs to be Reined In; Kevin Hart Will No Longer Be

Hosting the Oscars; Meng Wanzhou Arrested in Canada; All Clear From

Police After a Bomb Threat at CNN Offices; Yemen’s Warring Sides

Gather In Sweden for Peace Talks; Possible Plea Deal For Alleged Spy

Maria Butina; Cubans Get Web Access On Cell Phones; Trump

Administration Eases Rules For New Coal Plants Under EPA Chief, Who Is

A Former Coal Lobbyist. Aired 2-3a ET - Part 1>

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[02:00:05] GEORGE HOWELL, NEWSROOM ANCHOR, CNN: Trade tensions and a market roller coaster after the U.S. has a prominent Chinese tech official arrested. Manafort and Cohen documents, new filings from the Special Counsel’s office coming out Friday, what we may learn about the Russia probe. Also ahead this hour, out at the Oscars, actor and comedian Kevin Hart steps down for posting after outrage over old comments.

Live from CNN world headquarters in Atlanta. Welcome to our viewers all around the world. I’m George Howell. The CNN Newsroom starts right now. Around the world, good day to you, we begin with the Russia investigation. We’re learning more about those hectic days before Robert Mueller was appointed as the Special Counsel for the Russia investigation.

Sources now telling CNN the deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein and top FBI officials viewed President Trump as a leader who needed to be reined in. In a highly unusual move, the then acting FBI Director, Andrew McCabe opened an obstruction of justice investigation. One justification for it, President Trump asking FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation into the fired National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

Another, Comey’s firing, and to add to that, President Trump telling NBC News he fired Comey because of the Russia thing. And we could learn some new insight into the probe on Friday with a pair of very important court filings that are coming up. The Special Counsel -- Special Counsel faces a deadline to file briefs in the cases against former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen.

On top of that, former FBI Director James Comey testifies on Capitol Hill. Our Alex Marquardt has more details for you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALEX MARQUARDT, SENIOR U.S. CORRESPONDENT, CNN: The Special Counsel’s office has been so good about keeping the inner workings of their investigations secret. So through these documents coming out on Friday, this really could be a moment for us to get a much better sense of what is going on inside the Russia probe.

Let’s first talk about Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman who struck that stunning plea deal three months ago with Bob Mueller, only to announce it would fall apart. This will be the main event on Friday, the Special Counsel’s office accusing him of breaching that agreement by repeatedly lying to those prosecutors on a whole range of issues.

So on Friday, we expect the Mueller team to file a brief in court on what Manafort actually did to violate the terms of that plea deal. We expect at least some of that filing to be public. We don’t know exactly when it will come. Just that it has to happen before midnight here on the east coast. Then there’s the question of the President’s former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, who President Trump has called a weak person for flipping on him.

Michael Cohen’s due to be sentenced next week in New York. And Mueller’s office has to submit their sentencing memo by Friday afternoon in New York. This is for lying to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow deal. Cohen has now admitted he was updating President Trump, then candidate Trump, about the deal far longer than he originally said, essentially saying that the President was aware of the Trump organization’s business efforts in Russia while he was running for President.

And then switching gears a little bit, there’s former FBI Director James Comey, famously fired by President Donald Trump early in his term. Now, as Republicans are about to lose control of the House of Representatives on Capitol Hill, the judiciary committee chairman has subpoenaed Comey one more time to testify about the FBI’s handling of Hillary Clinton’s emails and the Russia investigation.

That will be behind closed doors. Comey had wanted it to be in public. He has said he will talk about the testimony afterwards, and we are expecting a transcript. So it will be a big day on multiple fronts, one that will hopefully give us a better idea of where things stand across the Russia probe. Alex Marquardt, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: To talk more about this now, let’s bring in CNN Legal Analyst, Areva Martin joining us from our studio in Los Angeles, Areva, thank you again for your time.

AREVA MARTIN, LEGAL ANALYST, CNN: Thanks, George.

MARTIN: Through these court filings on Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, we could learn a lot. Let’s start with Manafort. What do you expect we could learn about what Manafort said to prosecutors, and what evidence they have to show that he’s lying?

MARTIN: Well, we know George that Special Counsel Mueller is very upset with the way that Paul Manafort handled the cooperation agreement that was entered between him and Special Counsel’s office. According to earlier filings, Special Counsel Mueller said that Manafort violated the terms of the cooperation agreement and he went further.

[02:04:58] He said that Manafort actually lied to prosecutors and engaged in other crimes during the period that he was supposed to be cooperating and providing, you know, reliable and truthful information to the Special Counsel. So one of the things I think we can expect tomorrow from the Special Counsel is to ask the judge not to provide any leniency to Paul Manafort.

We saw that with respect to Michael Flynn in the filing made by the Special Counsel’s office. He went out of his way to talk about how Flynn had cooperated and how his cooperation had aided the Special Counsel’s office. We can expect just the opposite when it comes to statements made about Paul Manafort. We should expect the Special Counsel to be very critical of how Paul Manafort has conducted himself.

And for the Special Counsel to ask that he receives the most stringent penalty for the crimes that he’s been convicted of and those that he’s already pled guilty to.

HOWELL: Areva, with regards to Michael Cohen, we do know that the Special Counsel’s office and federal prosecutors in New York plan to provide memos to recommend a sentence for Cohen. And through those memos, the question here, could we get insight into the scope of how much Cohen cooperated with various investigations?

MARTIN: Well, I think, George, what we can expect is for the Special Counsel to definitely make some recommendations on leniency towards -- with respect to Michael Cohen and the sentencing that will occur on December 12th, because he has cooperated, apparently not just with the Special Counsel’s office but with other attorneys within the Department of Justice.

And we know that when someone comes forward and they cooperate with the Special Counsel’s office, with the Department of Justice, that’s grounds for that person being given a lighter sentence. How light a sentence? It remains to be seen. We know that Michael Cohen in his memo to the court has asked that he receive zero jail time.

I am not as optimistic that Special Counsel Mueller will be recommending that Cohen not serve any time given the gravity of his crimes. But I do expect that the Special Counsel will acknowledge his cooperation, the fact that he’s been truthful with respect for his cooperation, and he will ask the judge to take that into consideration and give him a sentence that’s lighter than he otherwise would receive.

HOWELL: So even before Robert Mueller was appointed, CNN has learned that the then acting FBI Director, Andrew McCabe, that he’d already opened an obstruction of justice investigation into the President of the United States. From what is already being divulged in the courts from the Mueller team, is there a sense that obstruction of justice is a major focus of this investigation?

MARTIN: We know, George, that obstruction of justice has been a major theme throughout the investigations that have been conducted by the Special Counsel’s office, all stemming back to that February meeting that James Comey had in the White House, where he says Donald Trump asked him to basically, you know, kill or quash the investigation as it related to Michael Flynn.

Now, we know that the President has denied this. But we have heard, you know, really contradictory statements about what happened during that February meeting. This article that’s just come out, this reporting that is somewhat shocking, because it says that even before Mueller was appointed, that it was Rosenstein and McCabe who were, you know, working together to open this obstruction of justice investigation because they had real concerns.

There’s also some, you know, reporting that suggests that Rosenstein was considering wearing some kind of wire and to engage in conversations with the President perhaps to get him to make certain admissions, you know, while Rosenstein was wearing a wire. Now, he’s denied this. There have been denials, you know, from the Department of Justice with respect to some of this reporting.

But I think it shows the gravity of the investigation that is being conducted by the Special Counsel’s office. And that it is far more expansive than just the Russia collusion with the Trump administration and his campaign.

HOWELL: It will be interesting to see what we get from these filings. CNN Legal Analyst Areva Martin, thank again you for your time.

MARTIN: Thanks, George.

HOWELL: We could learn much more on Friday about why a Chinese tech executive was arrested at the request of the United States when a bail hearing takes place in Canada. Meng Wanzhou is the Chief Financial Officer of the Chinese tech giant, Huawei Technologies. It’s not known why she was detained, and a Canadian court has imposed a news blackout on the case. But there’s no question that the United States wants an extradition.

The news sent Wall Street into a tailspin on Thursday. The DOW Jones dropped 785 points before regaining most of it to close down just 79 points. Our Matt Rivers follows the story live in Beijing this hour. Matt, it is the timing of all of this to see a senior Chinese executive arrested. That is most circumspect here in the middle of these trade discussions between the U.S. and China. The question of whether Meng is being used as leverage.

[02:10:12] MATT RIVERS, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Yeah. I mean I don’t think we can answer that question definitively, George. But it is certainly worth mentioning that this arrest is not happening in a bubble. We have a publication ban in place in Canada right now, which means we can’t discuss the specific charges that she is facing there, that the Canadians arrested her for at the request of the United States.

But what we can tell you is that there’s been a lot of reporting in the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, and others over the past year that the Department of Justice in the United States has been investigating Huawei for violating sanctions that the U.S. put into place against Iran. And so Meng’s arrest might be in relation to that.

We might find out more at that bail hearing if the publication ban is lifted by the Canadian authorities. But no matter what happened here, the fact is that the United States going forward with this, asking for extradition of one of the most important executives in all of Chinese tech. That is an incredible escalation.

The fact that she wants, the government wants her to stand in a New York courtroom to face, as of now, unspecified charges. That is incredibly aggressive by the United States. And the question is does that play into this broader trade war between the U.S. and China. So far, China’s reaction has been relatively muted.

They don’t seem to want to completely derail the trade talks because of this arrest. But how this moves forward, how Meng is treated by U.S. authorities. That’s going to play into these negotiations going forward, that were already going to be difficult to begin with, George.

HOWELL: Matt Rivers following the story in Beijing. Matt, thank you. The U.S. President is expected to announce his pick for U.N. ambassador. On Friday, and sources tells CNN the job will go to the current State Department Spokeswoman, Heather Nauert. Nauert probably best known as a Fox News host as you see there, the position requires Senate confirmation.

So expect plenty of questions about what makes her qualified for this job. Other than being a spokesperson for the State Department, Nauert has no diplomatic or foreign policy experience. She will replace Nikki Haley, who is leaving by the end of the year. Keeping in mind, Nauert won’t be the first TV personality to end up in the Trump administration.

Another is Larry Kudlow, who was a TV host on a business channel before becoming a key economic advisor. Another, John Bolton, he left his position as a commentator on Fox News to take on his current position as National Security Advisor. And Communications Chief Bill Shine used to be an executive at Fox News, a lot of Fox News there in the Trump White House.

Now to New York, where police have given an all clear, this, after CNN’s offices and studios there were evacuated due to a bomb threat just a short time ago. A caller claimed that five devices were planted inside the Time-Warner Center. But a floor by floor sweep by police found nothing suspicious. The evacuation knocked out a live CNN news program off the air here in the United States.

Comedian Kevin Hart is no longer hosting the next edition of the Oscars. Offensive comments that he made on Twitter years ago have now resurfaced. We’ll have details on that story ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[02:15:00] HOWELL: It is no laughing matter for a U.S. comedian. Kevin Hart says that he’s stepping down as the host of the Academy Awards in February. He made the announcement after tweets that he posted from 2009 to 2011 came back to surface. In them, he made offensive remarks about the LGBT community. Hart eventually apologized on Twitter saying this.

I do not want to be a distraction on a night that should be celebrated by so many amazing, talented artists. Earlier, he had refused to issue an apology, saying that he didn’t want to reward internet trolls.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN HART, COMEDIAN: So I just got a call from the Academy. And that call basically said, Kevin, apologize for your tweets of old or we’re going to have to move on and find another host. So my tweets were in 2009 and 2011. That’s the past. The reason why I passed is because I’ve addressed this several times. I’ve spoken on it.

I’ve said (Inaudible) I said who I am now versus then. I’ve done it. I’ve done it. I am not going to continue to go back and tap into the days of old when I moved on. And I am in a completely different space of my life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: Let’s talk more about this now with Rebecca Sun. Rebecca is a Senior Reporter at the Hollywood Reporter and now joins us this hour from Los Angeles. Thanks for being with us today.

REBECCA SUN, SENIOR REPORTER, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: No problem.

HOWELL: Kevin Hart initially refused to apologize. He has since done so, but what about the Academy for not seeing this beforehand?

SUN: Yeah. I mean nowadays, it is a little surprising that there isn’t more thorough vetting done, especially since the announcement of him being host just two days ago came relatively late, you know, in the cycle. It is, you know, already early December. And so you would think it is not difficult to find these tweets.

It took the public, you know, less than two days -- you know, these comments were in recent memory. So it is a little bit surprising, especially considering the climate that we’re in right now that this wouldn’t have been something that should have come up during discussions earlier.

HOWELL: You know what do you make of Hart’s point, asking when is it enough to apologize for past mistakes.

SUN: That point is valid one. The thing that I think people had -- were contending was that he -- they couldn’t find anywhere in the past record where he actually apologized for it. There was a Rolling Stone interview, I think in 2015, where he addressed it. But again, without those key words, I am sorry, or I apologize, you know, I think the reference was to the fact that this was 2015.

He said that he doesn’t make those jokes anymore because people are sensitive to these things now. That’s not the same thing as an apology. And so that’s sort of where people had an issue. There were people who had said if he had simply said I was wrong for that. I am sorry. Let’s move on. That, you know, yes, there might still be people that feel like it wasn’t appropriate for him to continue to host.

But I think a lot of other people would have accepted it and then moved on with him as host.

HOWELL: You know, Rebecca, given what we learned here, there has also been that argument made that Hart was not the right fit for this particular year. What are your thoughts there?

SUN: I saw that argument and that was specifically for those homophobic comments that he made, you know. And I don’t think that, you know, anybody who expresses any sort of bigoted comments, you would hope that they’re not a right fit for any year, you know? But outside of that, again, when he was announced two days ago. People were excited.

[02:20:08] It felt like he’s a widely, very, very successful, popular comedian who makes movies that do amazing at the box office. And he’s a movie star. He’s funny. And I think the fact that -- you know, he’s a popular black comedian. And this is a year where we’re looking forward to hopefully seeing Black Panther as the first superhero movie to potentially be nominated for best picture.

You have a lot of great movies featuring African-American leads and stories, BlacKkKlansman, you know, another Golden Globes best picture nominee today. And so I -- other than those comments, you know, he seemed like a fine fit.

HOWELL: And also, as far as the Academy, its reputation has taken several hits over the years. Is this yet another?

SUN: This is a significant blow. I mean I think that it makes the Academy -- it definitely continues to shake people’s confidence that the Academy kind of knows what it is doing. And again, remember, this is, you know, we’ve been dealing with Oscars so white for several years. You know the beginning of this year they announced that were going to try to do this best popular film Oscar, which was a roundly- criticized idea that they quickly back tracked from.

You know the ratings have been steadily declining. And that’s not always the Academy’s fault. Sometimes it is a matter of just -- the fact that there are 500 other shows on TV now to choose from, you know, and just various theatrical trends. But they have been on shaky ground for a while. And this kind of high profile (Inaudible) does not help.

HOWELL: Rebecca, thank you again so much for your time. We appreciate it.

SUN: Thank you.

HOWELL: Now to the United Kingdom and the issue of Brexit. Prime Minister Theresa May got a much needed boost for her plan to leave the E.U. from Britain’s finance minister. Many lawmakers oppose the deal she’s brokered with E.U. leaders. But the finance minister told parliament it is not realistic to renegotiate. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PHILIP HAMMOND, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Mr. Speaker, I have observed this process close quarters for 2 1/2 years. And I am absolutely clear about one thing. This deal is the best deal to exit the E.U. that is available or that is going to be available. The idea that there is an option of renegotiating at the 11th hour is simply a delusion. We need to be honest with ourselves. The alternatives to this deal are no deal or no Brexit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: Lawmakers are mired in a five day debate over the Prime Minister’s plan. Let’s get the very latest live from Erin McLaughlin who is following the story on the streets of Belfast. Erin, the border between Northern Ireland and neighboring island has been a very delicate issue throughout these Brexit talks. What is the feeling there about where things stand?

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: That’s right, George. What happens to Northern Ireland, what could happen to Northern Ireland is very much at the center of this controversy, the so-called northern Irish backstop part of the withdrawal. It was really seen as the reason why it is looking increasingly likely that British Prime Minister Theresa May will not be able to get this critical piece of Brexit legislation through parliament next week.

And this impasse has lawmakers here in Belfast outraged. It has people here in general confused about the situation. But business leaders say they see an opportunity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCLAUGHLIN: Belfast is a city that knows division. When it comes to Brexit, there are new fissures over Theresa May’s deal. But many say they’re more confused than anything else.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: See, like I don’t understand at the start of Brexit (Inaudible) what’s happening anymore so...

MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Difficult.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I understand some of it but not all. And I think the part that they don’t understand themselves either.

MCLAUGHLIN: Isn’t that concerning? Isn’t that concerning?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Inaudible).

MCLAUGHLIN: Then there are those with a more definitive view. They say the controversial backstop drafted to prevent the return of a hard border, means weakening the union between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So keeping us more in (Inaudible) Britain.

MCLAUGHLIN: And that bothers you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah.

MCLAUGHLIN: What else?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because we’re British. We’re not Irish.

MCLAUGHLIN: The Democratic Unionist Party feels the same. The DUP holds the keys to Theresa May’s minority government. It vows to vote down her deal next week.

[02:24:59] NIGEL DODDS, DEPUTY LEADER, DEMOCRATIC UNIONIST PARTY: Northern Ireland will treat Great Britain as a third country. How could you possibly stand here and recommend this deal?

MCLAUGHLIN: But where the DUP sees a threat, (Inaudible) sees opportunity. The (Inaudible) the backstop means northern Irish businesses will be able to trade both in the E.U. and the U.K., friction-free.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We could actually benefit from investment, you know, being in this unique situation where we can play with both markets.

MCLAUGHLIN: So it must be surreal to see arguing against the backstop that you see as a potential opportunity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. It doesn’t really make a lot of sense to me.

MCLAUGHLIN: The city of Belfast has known relative peace for the past 20 years. With Brexit, there’s new found uncertainty and plenty of confusion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCLAUGHLIN: And the latest attempt to resolve the impasse at Westminster, according to media reports, there’s been an amendment tabled, which would give parliament more of a say over when that backstop could be triggered as opposed to extending that so-called transition period. But the leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster, has taken to Twitter, saying that potential solution simply quote, won’t cut it, George.

HOWELL: All right, Erin, thank you again for the reporting. We’ll keep in touch with you there. Warring factions in Yemen are meeting for peace talks. But it will be a continued push for moving things forward. The question, will it make a difference, and what is the cost in this humanitarian crisis. We’ll take a look at that.

And another plea deal maybe in the works in the Russia probe, we’ll have details on who may be talking and who may be in hot water. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOWELL: Welcome back to our viewers all over the world. You are watching CNN Newsroom live from Atlanta. I’m George Howell with the headlines we’re following for you this hour. A bail hearing on Friday in Vancouver, Canada could help answer why a top Chinese tech executive was arrested there over the weekend at the request of the United States. Meng Wanzhou is the Chief Financial Office of the Chinese tech giant, Huawei Technologies.

It’s not known why she was detained. And a Canadian court has imposed a news blackout on that case. In New York City, police have given an all clear, this, after the CNN offices and studios were evacuated due to a bomb threat. The caller claimed that five devices were planted inside the Time-Warner Center, but police checked every floor, nothing was found that was suspicious.

[02:30:04] Comedian Kevin Hart says that he will step down from what he called the opportunity of a lifetime hosting the Academy Awards in February. The actor made the announcement after tweets that he wrote from 2009 to 2001 came back to life. In them, he made offensive remarks against the LGBT community.

Hart apologized saying his goal was to bring people together. The opposing sides in Yemen’s conflict are holding peace talks in Sweden. These are the first direct discussions between the Saudi-led Yemeni government and Houthi rebels in this two -- in two years. They made some progress as a confidence building measure. Each side agreed to free thousands of prisoners. The U.N. envoy for Yemen warns it is a hopeful start, but it’s not time to be overly optimistic.

He says the talks are only consultations, not yet the beginning of negotiations. The peace talks come as Yemen (INAUDIBLE) toward famine. The U.N. says the war has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. They say nearly 2 million children are acutely malnourished. Many of them have lost -- have the most severe form of starvation and they are struggling to survive. Save the Children counts some 85,000 children under the age of five who may have already died since that war started and 14 million Yemenis at total are at risk of starvation.

The head of the World Food Programme says he has never seen anything like the suffering that’s taking place in Yemen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID BEASLEY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WORLD FOOD PROGRAMME: I was at one of the hospitals in Yemen and this is no -- I couldn’t believe my very own eyes I was watching little girls, little boys die right before my very own eyes because of this war. And I ask the administrator of the hospital in one of the rooms where this little boy named Mohammed who was eight months old should have weighed 10 pounds. He weighed about two and a half pounds. He died the next day.

And I ask this administrator, I said, how many children are you getting a day? He said, about 50 just like this. I said, how much capacity do you have? He said, we have the capacity for 20. I said, what do you do with the other 30? He said, he would send them home to die. So what I saw on the ground is our worst fears and now the numbers are backing up, what we are experiencing, what we need to do. Last year, we were able to avert four countries facing famine because we had money and access.

We can do the same thing in Yemen if we have not just the money but we must have the access. That’s critical. Children are dying every 10 to 12 minutes and it’s getting worst. And let me say this, humanitarian response is not going to solve the problem alone now. The economy has collapsed so severely. We also have to have an injection of liquidity to stabilize the market place because even if someone does have money, the food prices are out of the roof now and there’s hardly any jobs available at all.

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