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Relentless Chaos and Confusion Rattle White House; Central Michigan University Student Killed Parents on Spring Break Eve; Deadly Strom Pummels Northeast; Kushner Under Scrutiny Over Business Interests While At White House; Kushner Businesses In Focus Amid Security Clearance Issues; Jailed Model Vows To Spill Alleged Trump- Russia Secrets; #MeToo And #TimesUp Expected To Be On Display At Oscars. Aired 11-12p
Aired March 3, 2018 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:59:57] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome. It's 11:00 on the East Coast.
I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Welcome this Saturday.
We begin with the White House in the midst of relentless chaos. President Trump is spending the day away from Washington at his Florida golf course today. Close friends describe him overall as unraveled and unglued after the Trump administration stirred up an epic week of disarray at home and overseas.
Sharing that spotlight is White House chief of staff, John Kelly, who just yesterday defended his handling of the Rob Porter domestic abuse scandal. Kelly changed his story with an explanation that stunned even his White House colleagues, some of them saying, point blank, Kelly isn't telling the truth. But Kelly says, quote, "I have absolutely nothing to even consider resigning over."
Tonight, the President will head back to D.C. to attend the Gridiron Dinner with many of Washington's top journalists -- his favorite people. The event is a long-standing tradition where the President customarily allows himself to be the subject of jokes.
So we will see if that happens tonight.
CNN's Boris Sanchez is covering the President for us from West Palm Beach, Florida. So Boris -- given the current turmoil in the west wing and the friction between the President and the media, can we really expect humor tonight?
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's a good question, Fred.
Frankly it's a bit surprising that President Trump would attend the Gridiron Dinner. Notably he did not go last year. He sent Vice President Mike Pence in his place.
This is, as you noted, a long-standing tradition. Every president since Grover Cleveland has taken part at least once. Journalists dress up and they sing songs lampooning and mocking politicians. And then the politicians get their turn to get some revenge. It really is a lighthearted affair.
The last time we saw President Trump take part in anything like this was the Al Smith Dinner in New York City back during the 2016 campaign and what started as good-natured ribbing evolved into what some felt were jokes that crossed the line about his opponent who was there -- Hillary Clinton. The President actually got booed at different points during his roast.
We should note though, that it's not all jokes. As you noted, Fred -- this White House is seeing a streak of turbulence that we had not seen before even by the standard of this administration. Not only do you have key figures that are leaving the White House like Hope Hicks.
You also have rumors about others that are looking for potential landing spots outside of the administration, like H.R. McMaster, rumors that some like Gary Cohn are threatening to leave over those tariffs that the President announced that would be coming next week on imported steel and aluminum.
We also have reports from some close to the President that he has been lashing out at his staff; so, he's clearly frustrated by the state of his administration. He may get a chance tonight to share a few laughs and maybe tell a couple of jokes about fake news, but the fact is, within this administration and to people close to this president, this is a very difficult time, some telling CNN in private that they are worried about this president -- Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right. Boris Sanchez -- thank you so much. We'll check back with you. >
So among the items and actions by President Trump that made for a rather tumultuous week: the surprise announcement on steel and aluminum tariffs which sent the stock market spiraling downward. But the President's Commerce Secretary says it isn't all that surprising.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILBUR ROSS, U.S. SECRETARY OF COMMERCE: Steel tariffs should not surprise anyone. Go back to the Presidential campaign. Look at how many hundreds of times the President said that he was going to do something to protect American steel. It shouldn't be a surprise to anybody in the whole wide world that he put tariffs on steel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: this week, the President accepting the resignation of his long-time assistant and current White House communication director Hope Hicks. The move, coming a day after she testified to the House Intelligence Committee and admitted telling white lies at times for Trump. But, reportedly, her resignation has been in the works for many weeks, if not months.
All of this is just scratching the surface for the turmoil plaguing this White House this week. Joining me right now: former director for the Nixon Presidential Library Tim Naftali; and assistant editor for "The Washington Post" David Swerdlick. Good to see you both -- gentlemen.
All right. So Tim -- you're up first. Along with the Hope Hicks, you know, news, we've learned that the national security advisor H.R. McMaster could leave his role as early as the end of the month.
So what does this mean for this president and this White House to have this kind of potential shakeup and shakeup of staffing?
TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL LEADER: Well, this was a really hard -- I could imagine, that this was a very hard week for President Trump. Imagine, keep in mind, this is -- he's a vain billionaire, self- indulged who has been able to control his inner circle for most of his adult life. And now he cannot control who is closest to him in the most difficult job he's ever had in his life.
[11:05:01] So there is no doubt in my mind that this was a tumultuous week for him as a leader. And I suspect that is why we ended up having the tariffs that were announced because they were among the few things that he can do unilaterally as president because of the help of the Commerce and the Pentagon made it into a national security issue.
So, I think the fact that people want to move out of that White House is no surprise to me at all given that it must be a very difficult place to work these days.
WHITFIELD: So when you hear about friend describing him as unglued or unraveling, that sounds about accurate given what is happening around him -- Tim?
NAFTALI: Well, again, think about his background. I mean his biography -- there's no secrets about it. This is a man who is used to getting things his own way. He is not just used to getting 19 diet cokes a day. He is used to being able to say, do this and it gets done. And he's not able to do that any more.
And of course, at this point he appears to have a good relationship, at this point, with General Kelly. But how long is he going to be taking instruction from people outside of his family? I just don't see this as a sustainable situation.
I mean he's going to have to change the way in which he thinks about management to politically survive this moment. I'm not saying he's going anywhere, but the President's ideas about management are from his New York real estate days. They're not from Washington. Now he's got to figure out if he can actually succeed in Washington.
WHITFIELD: All right. So David -- you know, the aluminum and steel tariffs, you know, they're sending shockwaves globally and right across the border with Canada. Trump in one tweet saying, "In fact, trade wars are good."
Now the European Commission is threatening own set of tariffs on Harley Davidson motorcycles, bourbon, whiskey and even Levi Jeans. So is this the kind of response that perhaps the White House expected, or at least the President, when he made this what some would say kind of a kneejerk reaction or announcement on tariffs?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good morning Fred.
I'm so glad you put up that tweet because he said in that tweet, that this is going to be easy, trade wars are easy. And Tim was just talking about the fact that President Trump finds himself in the world's biggest management challenge, unequipped for it and, not only that, he campaigned on the idea that everybody else who had done it before him was stupid and he would do it so easily.
With these tariffs, he's made his job harder. In the short term, he is signaling to his base that he is going to do the sort of America first, fight for the America working man and maybe there will be some short-term marginal benefit to steel workers in western Pennsylvania.
But overall now he's created two problems for himself with this. One is that you see no major serious economist supports this because it's not good for America in a world where global trade rules the day.
The second thing is that on a whole host of other issues, President Trump needs the support of both our allies and, in some cases, our adversaries. If you want China's help, and if you want the shred of a chance that China will help us with North Korea, there is no reason to get into a trade war with China.
If you want prime minister -- the prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau to help us on national security issues and trade issues and renegotiate NAFTA, his country is the country that's exporting the most steel to the United States. To antagonize Canada at that time is counterproductive to the bigger aims of the U.S. on the global stage.
WHITFIELD: Right. So from Canada the larger exporter -- $7.2 billion in aluminum, $4.3 billion of steel to the United States just last year alone.
So, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called all the recent turmoil from the White House damaging, not just, you know, here at home but, you know, around the world. And, you know, Tim -- you touched on that.
Listen to what he told our Wolf Blitzer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: This is really damaging whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, liberal or conservative. You love the country, you don't want to see a White House that seems to be so chaotic, so incompetent and so filled with contradictory actions and opinions that people around the world and people here in America wonder if there's any leadership at all coming from the President.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Tim -- is that what's happening? Is that the ripple effect?
NAFTALI: I mean, we don't have to listen to the, you know, the Democratic leader to know that disruption is not an approach to management. (AUDIO GAP) -- when you want to set a new tone.
But you can't manage by disruption. The United States is the leader of alliances. It is engaged every day around the world in trade discussions. And besides what government does all American companies need to know what the U.S. dollar, how strong will the dollar be in a month? How good will our relations be with countries where I want to sell in three months?
[11:09:58] Disruption can't make those decisions easy. So, the United States needs a leader who has a straightforward vision.
Just this week, President Trump flip-flopped on guns. Now, that doesn't touch on international relations, but it shows a president who doesn't know his own mind. So, the tariffs may come, they may go. Look, most of the Republican leadership is against the tariffs. We'll see if they happen next week.
The problem is that people don't know how to predict the United States' next move and that's not good for a super power.
WHITFIELD: And so, David -- that may be the case globally, but it also may be applicable domestically, right. People are not quite sure where the President is coming from given such a short span of time elapses before he flip-flops or changes his mind whether it's publicly or the private message.
SWERDLICK: Yes. So there's two sides to that -- Fred. Inside the White House by all accounts, it has been a chaotic dispiriting week for President Trump's staff. I think people are overwhelmed by all the different scandals and, you know, departures and so forth that have been on display week after week after week.
We just got through the Rob Porter scandal and then chief of staff General Kelly brings it up again inexplicably to try and defend himself for, by most reporting, doing things that were sort of indefensible.
At the same time, if you look at the broader country politically, the bottom has not fallen out on President Trump. Right now in the real clear politics polling average, he's at 41 percent. He was only at 44 percent or 45 percent on the day he was inaugurated.
So what that tells President Trump is please his base, hang on to his base and then he'll just sort of wing it as Tim was describing with everyone else, whether it's on gun control or whether it's on trade.
WHITFIELD: And there's the policy on the agenda on, you know, his approach on certain policy items. And then when you talk about his staffing -- Tim, and now it's his daughter, Ivanka and his son-in-law, you know, whose records, financial dealings are being scrutinized as well as that with their security clearances, you know, not being up to snuff. So, how the President handles this is how important in your view? By him saying, Kelly, you handle it. I mean, what does that say about he not being able to talk to his own daughter and son-in-law about what is proper or improper?
NAFTALI: You know, it's hard these days to say the President has surprised you because the surprise -- you shouldn't be surprised by surprise, right?
But the President has the authority to decide who gets clearances around him. And I still haven't seen a good explanation to why he decided to drop this issue into Kelly's lap. Because he could have made -- he could have said, look, Jared Kushner keeps TS SCI and he didn't. So, I don't know what kind of weird, intra-family --
WHITFIELD: Well, is it because -- yes because he doesn't what to make waves --
NAFTALI: -- dispute or discussions going on. But something interesting happened.
WHITFIELD: -- potentially because he doesn't want to make waves within his own family knowing there are the family business issues. And does it also mean that Kelly is more expendable. So, if Kelly makes a decision that he doesn't ultimately like getting rid of Kelly is far easier than getting rid of your daughter or your son-in-law?
NAFTALI: But why dangle your son-in-law? Again, I don't -- again this, this week will be a great chapter in somebody's future biography of President Trump. I can't imagine the conversations that have gone on in the family about this because in Washington, high-level clearances are the coin of the realm.
If you want to be a player on all big issues, the kinds of issues that Kushner was working on, you need TS SCI. He lost that, it means he is not a player and his father-in-law let it happen.
WHITFIELD: So, David -- the endorsement of, you know, I'm willing to overlook that is really how you interpret the President's decision to allow these two advisors to go on without that kind of clearance.
SWERDLICK: That's right. Look, he's in a box where he shouldn't have ever had his daughter and son-in-law in the White House in the first place. And you know, to use a word that we use in a totally different context, Fred -- he seem to be using, if the reporting is right, General Kelly as a cutout here to do his dirty work for him which he has done in other context when he was in the private sector -- have people do his dirty work for him for when there is something that he can take credit for or take a sort of "who's your daddy posture" on whether it's guns this week or whether it's, you know, sticking a finger in the eye of our trading partners then he wants to be in front of the cameras making the decision, as Tim said a minute ago, unilaterally.
WHITFIELD: See, expert journalist and also psychologist. Thank you -- David, Tim. Appreciate it.
NAFTALI: Thanks -- Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right.
Coming up, a Michigan college student allegedly killing his own parents sparking an hours' long manhunt -- police providing new details on the case just minutes ago. We'll take you there live.
Plus a powerful storm slams the East Coast flooding parts of Massachusetts and leaving more than a million people in that region without power; areas along the coast now preparing for more flooding as high tide rolls in.
[11:15:07] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
WHITFIELD: Welcome back.
A Michigan college student accused of killing his parents is now in custody after a nearly day-long manhunt. Police say the fatal shooting followed a family-related domestic dispute.
Authorities gave an update just moments ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHIEF BILL YEAGLEY, CENTRAL MICHIGAN UNIVERSITY POLICE: The danger that our community has experienced over the last 24 hours or so has been -- is now over. It's very difficult for all of us to say that on our campus two people were killed.
What makes this, I don't know, worse or better -- I guess you'll have to figure out for yourself -- is that it was really a domestic issue. It was a mother and a father and a son involved in this initial confrontation that ended up with tragically losing two people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[11:20:02] WHITFIELD: CNN's Scott McLean is live for us in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.
Scott -- this is so terribly sad. What have you learned about all the circumstances surrounding this?
SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey -- Fredricka.
So we're learning from law enforcement officials who just held a press conference, that this all started Thursday evening when James Davis Jr., this 19-year-old college student went to a police officer, resource officer that works inside of his residence building saying someone was out to get him. He thought someone was trying to kill him. But he didn't sound very rational, didn't sound very logical. Police actually did investigate. They found that there was no threat and they sent him on his way. But then later that same night they saw him packing up his bags to go somewhere, despite the fact that his parents weren't supposed to pick him up until the following next morning.
So upon talking to him again, they realize that perhaps there were some drug issues, maybe he was on drugs, maybe he was having some type of psychotic episode. So they actually took him to a hospital.
He spent the night at the hospital then his parents came from Illinois to pick him up the following morning. That's when they went back to the dormitory. They were packing up their things and then Davis Jr. can be seen on security footage coming from the parking lot with the gun going into that residence building.
He went up to the fourth floor where his dormitory was located and he shot both of his parents before fleeing the scene. Turns out the gun that he used actually belongs to his father, a police officer in Illinois. That the gun even being on campuses against campus policy, but nonetheless, that is the gun that was used. It was a handgun, not a long gun. That's what police say.
Nevertheless, it took hours and hours for police to actually locate James Davis Jr. It was a conductor or person operating a freight train that was going through the tracks on campus that saw him standing near the tracks just on the north end of campus. Maybe half a mile or less from where his residence was actually located and then police were able to apprehend him after that. He is in the hospital right now because of hypothermia.
But the big question, Fredricka, in addition to why he did this in the first place, is that how did it take so long for police to actually catch him? They're not sure whether or not he went off further away from campus and then came back or whether or not police just never found him in the first place when they were combing campus.
WHITFIELD: And then Scott -- is there a story behind how the son got his dad's gun?
MCLEAN: Yes. That's something that police are looking into. But we know that this was a weapon that the father, James Davis Sr. had in the vehicle with him. And so, it is plausible that he maybe knew that it was in the car because he was coming from the parking lot. So, obviously, the father didn't have it with him.
And so it is possible, Fredricka, that he got it out of the car and then went back up to the dorm room and that's where all this took place.
WHITFIELD: All right, terrible. All right, Scott McLean -- thank you so much. >
Meantime at least five deaths, more than one million people without power -- up next, details on the powerful storm that is whipping the East Coast and heavy rain and brutal winds along with it. [11:23:18] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
WHITFIELD: All right.
Right, now the aftermath of a deadly bomb cyclone slamming parts of the northeast -- that is what it is called -- with brutal winds, relentless rain and surging waves. The powerful storm is already blamed for at least five deaths and now the fallout.
More than a million customers along the East Coast are without power and there's no immediate relief in sight. Electric companies struggling to respond in these violent winds, a transportation nightmare, as well; thousands of flights canceled, trains halted and roadways under water.
And some families are left with the very harsh reality. Homes are destroyed and cars are flooded. But some are very thankful, still, to be alive.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Very grateful.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Very scary. It's the worst one ever.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely horrific. But we're ok. We're ok. That's all that matters.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've been in this house for now five years and we've seen extreme winds in the wintertime and it was scary. But this was the worst it's ever been.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
And a big concern now, flooding parts of Massachusetts under water and right now we could see another historic high tide along the coastline.
We've got team coverage. Ryan Young is in Quincy, Massachusetts where the tide is definitely up; and Polo Sandoval is in Boston.
So Ryan -- let me begin with you as you dodge those huge waves coming over that barrier.
RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. Look, this is a street here and when we first started our live shots this morning we didn't have to deal with all this water. In fact, when we arrived we saw a car that was submerged.
This is the neighborhood where more than 70 people had to be evacuated. Front loaders were used to get these people out of their homes. There's actually signs on some of the front of these homes that say look, we evacuated.
I want to show you this backyard here because Fred -- back here, this is where we saw a lot of the damage where the water is pooling. And you can see what's left back there. Talking to some of the neighbors who have been able to make it back home, their first floors have been destroyed. Going to the Dunkin' Donuts up the street where a lot of people gathered this morning before coming back home to look at what's going on here. They were saying they had never seen the water move so quickly.
Three high tides back to back to back, it was like a devastating boxer's combination that really knocked some of these people out of their homes. And you can understand why they are upset.
[11:30:04] The biggest part though is a lot of people were able to make it out without getting hurt.
Here is the key, though. There are people who still try to drive through this kind of mess and this is where people sometimes get stuck because as you drive through it, you don't realize how deep this water can be and how strong some of these waves can be.
You got to give it up to the first responders, though, because throughout the night, we saw firefighters and police officers who are out there dealing with this, despite the conditions at their own homes, able to make sure that people in this area were rescued.
WHITFIELD: All right. Ryan, a pretty severe situation there. Let's check in with Polo Sandoval there in Boston and what you are experiencing there?
POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fred, this is now the third expected high tide event that officials have been watching very closely here in Boston. The water definitely was not overflowing this sea wall about an hour ago. So, it just gives you a sense of how fast this tide will rise.
Again, this was expected. This is what officials have been telling people that was going to happen both around midnight and the afternoon, so this should be peaking in about an hour. This has become more of an inconvenience than anything else in Boston for people who are either trying to drive or walk around the city.
I should mention, though, as fast as it goes up, the waters then begin to retreat, which is something that we should be expecting here. Overall, though, in the last 24 hours or so, any damage has been relatively minimal. Those high winds definitely toss some stuff around downtown Boston area.
But we have not seen any obvious signs of major damage. So, this should be the last major high tide event that we're expecting in this part of Massachusetts. But, again, just goes to show you how fast things can change. Perhaps silver lining, if you will, some breaks in the cloud today.
You'll see some people out and about today because you don't have that rain and you don't have that extreme wind but nonetheless, that potential for moderate flooding in and around Boston does continue -- Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right. Polo Sandoval, I thank you so much. Ryan Young, appreciate you both.
All right. Coming up next, conflicts of interest run amuck. Private meetings at the White House followed by hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to Jared Kushner's family business. Details on all of that after this.
WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. Senior White House Adviser Jared Kushner has had his top security clearance downgraded and the White House meantime is defending Kushner despite a "New York Times" report that his family business has secured $500 million in loans after Kushner sat down with company heads for White House meetings.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is Kushner becoming a distraction given all the controversies that he has been at the center of in recent days?
SANDERS: Look, Jared is still a valued member of the administration. He'll continue to focus on the work that he's been doing and we're going to continue pushing forward on that front as well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: CNN money and politics correspondent, Cristina Alesci, is following the story for us and joins us live. Cristina, how big of an obstacle is this for the White House and for Jared Kushner?
CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN MONEY BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jared Kushner and his family's real estate holdings really leave him exposed to allegations of conflicts of interest and potential influence from foreign countries and that cloud, Fredricka, is unlikely to lift while he's in the White House and possibly beyond that. Listen.
ALESCI (voice-over): This Chicago skyscraper is majority owned by Jared Kushner and his family. Mortgage documents show a fund linked to New York City private equity powerhouse, Apollo Global Management, provided them with $184 million mortgage for the building.
Apollo was founded by Josh Harris. Months earlier, that same executive was in talks with the White House about an advisory role, according to a source with knowledge of the discussions. Jared stepped down as CEO of his family's business, Kushner Companies, since going to Washington. But questions of conflicts still persist.
Also, at the White House, Jared met with Citibank CEO, Michael Corbet, last year. Around the same time Citibank made a $125 million loan to Kushner Companies and its partners. Spokespeople for both Apollo and Citibank said their executives were not involved in granting those loans.
NOAH BOOKBINDER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CITIZENS FOR RESPONSIBILITY AND ETHICS IN WASHINGTON: You also have to worry about whether he has an incentive to use his official power to use the power of the White House to help people that he has business relations with.
ALESCI: A Kushner Companies spokesperson said there was nothing inappropriate and stories like these attempts to make insinuating connections that do not exist to disparage the financial institutions and the companies involved.
Just last week, CNN reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is inquiring about Kushner approaching foreign investors during the transition, including a Chinese insurance company and a Qatari investor for the family's biggest bet, 666 Fifth Avenue. The building hasn't generated enough profits to cover its debt.
HITEN SAMTANI, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, DIGITAL THE REAL DEAL: The $1.8 billion was a record price for Manhattan Skyscraper, a highly leveraged deal which means the income in the building wasn't even close to covering what they would have to pay in interest. It's a deal that a lot of people say was doomed from the start.
ALESCI: About $1.2 billion in debt on the tower comes due next year, but sources say that negotiations with lenders and news sources of capital need to start soon. Kushner Companies confirmed it is in talks to buy out its partner in the project, but the question remains. How will they pay for it? When asked by CNN, they declined to comment.
SAMTANI: They are always looking for loans and construction loans and development loans and acquisition loans. I would say it's an active business.
ALESCI: Kushner Companies also needs to find investors for a development in Jersey City. The company scuttled the plan to use a government program that would help foreigners get U.S. visas in exchange for investment after Jared's sister was referencing him during a presentation in China.
[11:40:07] Another deal raising questions, the "New York Times" reported that Kushner companies received $30 million from one of Israel's largest financial institutions just before Jared's first diplomatic trip to the country.
Last week, the "Washington Post" reported officials from at least four countries, Mexico, Israel, China and the United Arab Emirates discussed ways they could manipulate Jared because of his family's finances.
The constant search for capital which is normal for any real estate firm casts a cloud over Jared's White House role because like his father-in-law he has refused to fully divest from his holdings.
(END VIDEOTAPE) ALESCI: Look, I remember early in the transitions that Jared Kushner and his advisors were trying lay concerns from ethics officials in Washington, D.C. They were telling these officials that the real estate deals were static, boring, inactive deals.
And these examples that I just laid out in what you just heard show that these real estate deals are anything but that. They are active, and they are constantly in search of capital -- Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: Are there potential, you know, legal hiccups along the way here?
ALESCI: Well, no one's reported that there is anything untoward in terms of legal ramifications for Jared Kushner. What is important to note, however, is that Jared Kushner is subject to criminal conflicts of interest laws. Unlike the president of the United States who is exempt from those laws. So, the stakes are higher for Jared Kushner here.
WHITFIELD: All right. Cristina Alesci, thank you so much, in New York.
All right. Up next, a self-described seductress says she holds the key to the Russia investigation linking Trump directly to the Kremlin. But, the secrets come at a price. We're in Moscow for the story after this.
WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta.
A Russian woman who describes herself as a seductress and has bragged about her connections with the Russian oligarchs is saying she can provide links between Russia and President Trump to anyone who can help get her out of a prison in Thailand.
CNN senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance, is following this story and joins us live now from Moscow. So, Matthew, give us all the details here.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Fredricka. This is an extraordinary story that sheds some light on to the very secretive world normally of Russian politics and business and how the two sorts of mix and mingle onboard one billionaire's yacht.
It also offers the possibility of shedding more light on the Russia story. It also happens to involve a young woman who describes herself as a sex coach and who is now promising new information that she said will be of interest to the Mueller investigation.
CHANCE (voice-over): She promotes herself endlessly on social media. Nastya Rybka, the kind of self-styled Russian sex guru, who supposedly teach you the art of seduction for a fee, of course.
NASTYA RYBKA, RUSSIAN MODEL (through translator): Even if we're interacting with men who are famous actors, lawmakers, scientists, very few of these men when they interact with a woman discuss high- brow topics with them. If you want to seduce a man like that, he needs to be hooked by his basic sexual instinct.
CHANCE: Amid snaps and titillating videos of her frolicking on yachts and exotic beaches, she brags of liaisons with billionaires and one billionaire in particular. These are the images that have thrust her into the kind of spotlight she didn't expect.
It shows her relaxing on a boat with two men, one of them is Oleg Deripaska, one of Russia's richest men, and the other a senior Russian official, Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko.
Russia's main opposition leader seized on the images as evidence of official corruption, also suggesting that the two men could be heard discussing U.S./Russia relations may have served as a link between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.
Prikhodko has refused to comment on the allegations. Deripaska has dismissed it as a story far from any truth. In a statement to CNN his spokesperson said he is suing Rybka and her business partner because they, quote, "maliciously made his private photos and personal information public."
CHANCE (on camera): Matthew Chance from CNN --
(voice-over): It's not the first time the Russian oligarch known to be close to the Kremlin has fended off allegations of collusion. CNN confronted him last year, after it was revealed Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who once worked for Deripaska offered him private briefings. Deripaska told CNN he never received any communication about it.
(on camera): Did he owe you millions of dollars?
(voice-over): But it was after the promise of more detail, more information, from Nastya Rybka, who was holding one of her sex and seduction classes on this beach in Thailand that this extraordinary story appears to have taken a spy novel turn.
She was arrested by Thai police for violating the terms of her tourist visa. Managing to record this quick tantalizing message aimed at the American media as she was driven away.
[11:50:13] RYBKA (through translator): I'm ready to give you all the missing pieces of the puzzle. Support them with videos and audio regarding the connections of our respective lawmakers with Trump, Manafort and the rest. I know a lot. I'm waiting for your offers in a Thai prison.
CHANCE: They're probably just the words of a desperate woman, hoping to avoid deportation to Russia. But her promise with no evidence so far to unlock the mysteries of the Trump/Russia scandal have certainly got Rybka the attention she so often craved.
CHANCE: Well, Fredricka, even as she languishes in a Thai prison awaiting her fate, CNN has managed to reach out to her and she's told us that she's got 18 hours of audiotapes or files that she said may be of interest to the Mueller investigation.
Also, a photograph on her telephone which she hasn't given us yet of an unnamed American businessman according to her. So, nothing substantial but this case is raising a lot of interest here in Russia and, you know, it's certainly worth keeping an eye on what else this woman is going to reveal -- Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: It's all very fascinating. Just adds to the many layers of curiosities. Thank you so much, Matthew Chance. Appreciate it, in Moscow.
All right, still to come, let's talk about movies and the Oscars kicking off tomorrow night. The real drama could actually take place before the show. We'll explain all about it next.
WHITFIELD: All right. Tomorrow is Hollywood's biggest night. It's the Oscar awards. But like the films nominated, the ceremony will involve a little drama. Ryan Seacrest will be hosting E! Network's red-carpet coverage amid allegations of sexual harassment by his former stylist.
After launching an investigation into the claim, E! found no evidence of Seacrest's wrong doing. Kelly Ripa came to her co-host's defense addressing the controversy on their talk show "Live with Kelly And Ryan."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELLY RIPA, HOST, "LIVE WITH KELLY AND RYAN": I just want you to know that you are a privilege to work with, and I adore you, and I'm speaking on behalf of all of us here. I know -- I know what an easy professional great person you are, and I feel very, very lucky to work with you each and every day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: All right, this comes as the me too and time's up movements have been on full display this award season. You might recall the pins and even the white roses that some carried at the Grammys earlier this year and the all black outfits at the Golden Globes. Well, now, Stephanie Elam looks ahead to what we can expect at this weekend's Oscars.
STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The groundswell has been impossible to ignore.
OPRAH WINFREY, MEDIA MOGUL: Now that we've all joined as one voice, it feels like empowerment to those women who never had it.
ELAM: All award season, #metoo and #timesup movements have dominated red carpet conversations as the entertainment industry took a stand against sexual assault and harassment. Allegations against numerous Hollywood heavyweights spurred the action with the social calls to action providing an outlet for victims to speak out against their aggressors.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's humbling but it's also empowering. I think this is such a bold statement for women who work in Hollywood to make in solidarity with women across the world.
ELAM: Other celebrities have used award seasons to show their support.
ALISON BROWER, DEPUTY EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, "THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER": We still see the time's up pins in many events and you still hear people at events and on the carpet referring to this movement, referring to the opening up that's happened in Hollywood and how important it is to keep the conversation going.
ELAM: At both the Golden Globes and SAG Awards, attendees arrived in all blacks with some bringing female activists as their guests. The SAG Awards featured only female presenters and guests at the Grammys carried white roses in solidarity. Now the question is how will the Academy awards address this surge in activism?
BROWER: ABC and the Academy have both made pretty clear statements that they hope that they can find a way to appropriately address it, possibly within the program, but that it won't dominate the conversation.
ELAM: While the Oscars are meant to be a celebration of film's biggest achievements, backlash is expected at the industry's largest hurdles are not addressed during the broadcast.
BROWER: As much as Hollywood wants to celebrate the films and support the notion that the Oscars should never be completely politicized, I think there would be a backlash if they don't find one official moment within the show to acknowledge this movement.
ELAM: The effects of a major shake-up in the industry rippling into Hollywood's biggest night. Stephanie Elam, CNN, Hollywood.
WHITFIELD: And we've got so much more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM and it all starts right now.
All right, hello again, and thank you for joining me this Saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
We begin with the White House in the midst of relentless chaos. President Trump is spending the day away from Washington at his Florida golf course today. A close friend describes him overall as unraveled and unglued after the Trump administration stirred up an epic week of disarray at home and overseas.
Sharing that spotlight is White House Chief of Staff John Kelly who just yesterday defended his handling of the Rob Porter domestic abuse scandal. Kelly changed his story with an explanation that stunned even his White House colleagues.
Some of them saying point blank Kelly isn't telling the truth. But Kelly says, quote, "I have absolutely nothing to even consider resigning over." In a few hours, the president will head back to Washington, D.C. to attend the grid iron dinner with many of Washington's --