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President's Lawyer: End The Special Counsel Probe; McCabe: My Firing Part Of Trump's "War On The FBI"; Mueller Has McCabe's Memos On Conversations With Trump; Trump Lawyer Seeks $20 Million In Damages From Porn Star; Engineer Warned of Cracks in Pedestrian Bridge Days Before Collapse; Kremlin Reacts to U.S. Sanctions as Russian Voters Head to Polls; Russia Expels 23 Diplomats, Shuts British Council in Response to "Provocative Moves"; U.S. Accuses Russia of Cyberattacks on Power Grid & Nuclear Plants. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 17, 2018 - 17:00   ET



ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: -- documented by the fired deputy director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe. Now, McCabe was just dismissed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions for alleged lack of candor or lying, essentially, to Justice Department investigators. McCabe tells CNN he was pushed out because of what he knows and how badly it could damage the president.

McCabe's dismissal is also the centerpiece of the president's campaign over the past 24 hours or so to shame his own Justice Department. The president hitting send on multiple tweets in the past few hours, broadsiding McCabe, his former boss, James Comey, as the sources of leaking, lying, and corruption inside the FBI.

Now, before the tweets, a slip and then a correction from the president's attorney. Hinting that the president's anger at the Russia investigation may soon reach a tipping point.

John Dowd told CNN, "Speaking for myself, not the president, I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe's boss, James Comey, based upon a fraudulent and corrupt dossier. Just end it on the merits in light of recent revelations."

Now, a lawyer speaking for anyone else but his client is curious that Dowd had to clarify he was speaking just for himself after telling another news outlet he was speaking for the president, that's unusual.

CNN's team of reporters and specialists have been closely tracking these developments, first to Washington and CNN justice reporter, Laura Jarrett. So, Laura, the special counsel now in possession of those memos from Andrew McCabe. What do we know about their contents and why would they matter to the special counsel?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: We know that these memos cover two key topics. McCabe's own conversations with the president as well as what McCabe was told about former FBI Director James Comey's separate conversations with Trump.

Remember that Comey explained in his testimony to Congress that he documented his interactions with the president and he told others that he trusted like McCabe, about them, because he feared that Trump was going to lie about their conversations.

So, McCabe's ability to now back up Comey's story officially could prove significant, as the Special Counsel Robert Mueller investigates potential obstruction of justice -- Ana.

CABRERA: OK, Laura, stand by. I also want to bring in Boris Sanchez. So, Boris, has the White House explained why John Dowd told "The Daily Beast" he was speaking for the president and then he changed his mind and said he was speaking only for himself?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They have not, Ana. John Dowd provided that statement initially to "The Daily Beast." Then he kind of backtracked and cleaned it up with the first line saying that he was speaking specifically for himself, not as the president's attorney, not at the president's behest, or behalf.

We can tell you, though, that a source close to the president has told CNN that Dowd was not authorized by the president to make these statements. That is that president Trump had no input on what John Dowd put out there today about the special counsel.

You get the sense from speaking to people close to the president that they are a bit annoyed that John Dowd went in this direction because it directly contradicts what many at the White House and the White House legal team have been saying about the Russia investigation, that they would fully comply with Robert Mueller.

That they would provide anything that the special counsel asked for. It also contradicts specifically what the president himself has said, guaranteeing that he wouldn't fire Robert Mueller and going as far as to say he was looking forward to sitting down with the special counsel.

So, that the investigation could reach a conclusion and so that the administration could prove that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. We should note, it's actually not the first time that John Dowd has gotten himself into trouble, in controversy.

If you recall, in December, he drafted a tweet that was sent out by the president that seemed to acknowledge that President Trump was aware that Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, had lied to the FBI before Flynn was fired.

And before President Trump allegedly approached former FBI Director James Comey about backing off the investigation of Michael Flynn, something that President Trump maintains never happened.

We should know that these rumors about the firing of Robert Mueller have been swirling for some time. There's actually been legislation that's been presented, some of it bipartisan, to protect Robert Mueller as special counsel in case he was fired by someone at the Department of Justice or by the president.

That legislation hasn't really gotten anywhere. We'll see if this week with that spending bill that Congress is set to vote on, if that comes up again and perhaps it's included in some of that language -- Ana.

CABRERA: OK. And Laura, I know that after Andrew McCabe was fired last night, he fired right back. What is he saying in his interview with CNN?

JARRETT: Well, he spoke to my colleague, Pamela Brown, and he had quite a bit to say about his interactions with the president. He described that Trump essentially heckling him on more than one occasion, calling his wife a loser.

[17:05:10] As you recall, he has used her as something of a pinata on the campaign trail back in 2016, mentioning her failed state Senate run back in '15, and how she took donations from Governor McAuliffe, a close Clinton ally.

But McCabe also described to Pamela how the president also sort of asked him a variety of different things as McCabe was advocating aggressively for a special counsel, behind the scenes, working to make sure that the Russia investigation was shored up. But McCabe did confirm that he never, ever asked the president, rather, never asked him directly to end the Russia investigation -- Ana.

CABRERA: OK, Laura Jarrett, Boris Sanchez, thank you for that latest reporting. The FBI Agents Association has also released a statement in response to McCabe's firing, and it reads in part, "While the FBIAA does not comment on personnel matters, the association remains fully committed to insuring that every FBIAA member is provided appropriate procedural protections. The FBIAA also strongly believes that personnel decisions should never be politicized."

I want to talk about all that has gone down in just the past 24 hours with our panel, politics reporter for "The Guardian," Sabrina Siddiqui, former FBI supervisory agent, Josh Campbell, and former prosecutor and CNN analyst, Paul Callan.

Josh, first to you, you left the FBI, and I imagine though you still have contact with your former colleagues, what's the feeling inside the FBI right now in light of McCabe's firing and everything that has transpired since then?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I have heard from a lot of my former colleagues in the last 12 hours. I think the one theme that I have noticed is one of confusion. People trying to make sense of two competing thoughts. Trying to hold in their head at the same time.

Lack of candor in the FBI is something that is not tolerated, and you know, almost always leads to dismissal. That people understand, but they're also trying to make sense of the process that was involved here. And the timeline that was involved in the dismissal of former Deputy Director McCabe. There are just so many questions to answer. The way this is handled is actually 180 degrees opposite of what the FBI is used to. The FBI agents collect information and determine facts. They're always privy to that information that allowed them to determine, that conclusion was drawn fairly and based on the information that we had.

In this situation, what the attorney general is asking us to do is to trust the conclusion without having any facts.

CABRERA: And because that has come out with this ongoing investigation from the Office of the Inspector General, this McCabe portion of the investigation was apparently cleaved off, one of the words I have seen used from his attorney, is that unusual procedurally, I mean, do they sometimes separate a broader investigation or is this different?

CAMPBELL: Yes, they have the ability to do that, but I think what would have been fair is if they would have, in concert with that, released the full inspector general findings and report from that portion, which we don't have right now.

So, what we're left to determine based on essentially a press statement from the attorney general indicating he has the authority to do something and he took action to do something, very generically details in there as far as what took place. We just don't know what it's based on.

CABRERA: We, of course, have McCabe refuting the notion that he did anything to mislead investigators. But Sabrina, if President Trump wasn't tweeting, wasn't politicizing this, would McCabe's firing be as controversial or would it be seen as sessions following the OIG's recommendations as well as the Office of Professional Responsibility, who recommended Sessions fire McCabe?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICS REPORTER, "THE GUARDIAN": It would have drawn less scrutiny if there hadn't been this long-running public campaign by the president and some of his allies to single out Andrew McCabe in particular and really put a great amount of pressure on Jeff Sessions to dismiss McCabe.

You'll recall that the president has been scathing also in his tweets about Sessions, repeatedly belittling him and expressing his frustration that Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation, and he also suggested as recently as December that McCabe's days should be numbered.

You also have to think about the fact McCabe was due to retire on Sunday. And they made this decision to terminate his employment effective immediately two days before that date, which effectively deprives him of some of his pension benefits.

A lot of this looks more retaliatory than it does drawn from the recommendations that were made in this report. I also think that it's now interesting to see McCabe having handed over these memos to the Special Counsel's Office. He certainly is one of the few people who is in a position to corroborate the testimony of James Comey, and I think that's going to be a key piece of this in terms of what happens next is what McCabe has told the special counsel. And certainly, now I think he feels even more obligated to share his side of the story.

[17:10:14] CABRERA: And Paul, on that note, what do you see as the significance of the memos that are apparently now in the hands of Special Counsel Robert Mueller?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think they're very important in this investigation, ultimately, and the level of vengeance that we're seeing demonstrated in the firing of McCabe suggests to me that Trump lawyers are afraid that McCabe will be a key witness against the president going forward.

Remember, Comey said that he went to McCabe and recounted several odd incidents that happened with the president, including the president demanding a loyalty oath from Comey. Comey said that he told McCabe about this, and presumably, McCabe may have made a memo or a note about it.

The fact now that they're firing him for cause and saying that he's violated in very serious way FBI regulations will be used later on to undermine his credibility, and say he can't be believed, this is someone the FBI fired. So, I think that's what's going on here.

CABRERA: And yet Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney, fired by President Trump as well, responded to one of the president's tweets saying this. This is called lawsuit Exhibit A. Here's what the president had tweeted. This is what he was responding to, "Andrew McCabe fired. A great day for the hard-working men and women of the FBI. A great day for democracy. Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choir boy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI." So, Paul, I mean, he's suggesting McCabe could go after the president. No?

CALLAN: Well, yes. And I think McCabe has suggested in statements he issued yesterday that he might file a lawsuit of his own. You know, this is a labor law situation as well as sort of an investigation by Congress and by the special prosecutor.

And you can't just fire somebody who has worked for the government for 21 years without valid cause. So, there's going to be a monster of a battle here, and McCabe's position is, I have been fired to prevent me from appearing as a witness or looking to be a credible witness. So, I think you're going to see a lot of fireworks flying in this situation.

CABRERA: Josh, I want to share, again, former CIA Director John Brennan's stunning response to McCabe's firing when he writes, "When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history. You may scapegoat Andy McCabe, but you will not destroy America. America will triumph over you."

That tweet directed at the president. Given the facts, that may or may not justify McCabe's firing aren't public yet, is it possible, Josh, Brennan knows something the public doesn't yet know?

CAMPBELL: I think Brennan knows so much more than the public knows. I mean, looking at his service, nearly four years as director of CIA, I think what we're seeing here, and I don't know if I would personally use that same kind of language, but it shows a level of frustration in government officials.

I talked to a former colleague at CIA who described it well and said look, if you were us in this situation and you have been going after this adversary, you have seen -- I'm talking about the Russians, what they have done to our country, the targeting through the last election.

And you have someone like John Brennan who is in place trying to say, look, this is something you need to be focusing on as they change administration to administration, couple that with the fact that I was there at the Trump Tower meeting when you had Brennan, Comey, Clapper, you know, presenting the new administration with the threat briefings.

I think what we're seeing is a level of frustration where they knew there was something there, something that the government should be targeting, but they don't see this administration actually following through on maybe what they would have done. So, I think that's reflected in a lot of the -- what we're seeing on Twitter.

CABRERA: Sabrina, now the president's attorney is using McCabe's firing to call for an end to the Russia investigation. This comes a few days after we learned Robert Mueller may have crossed that red line. Trump had sort of spoken of by subpoenaing the business records from the Trump Organization. Do you think the stage is now set to get rid of Robert Mueller?

SIDDIQUI: Well, it certainly suggests that this broader effort to undermine the special counsel's investigation may be paving the way to do so. I think it's especially notable because the president and his attorneys have said on repeated occasions they're doing everything they can to cooperate with the special counsel's investigation.

But then they make statements like these which suggest anything but, and I also think that it creates a major headache for Republicans on Capitol Hill, who have created their own red line in the sand, which is that firing Robert Mueller, as Lindsey Graham put it in January, in the eyes of some Republicans would be the end of Trump's presidency.

[17:15:07] I think it also speaks to the broader politicization of the FBI under Trump, where you look at Robert Mueller, you look at James Comey, Andrew McCabe and Rod Rosenstein. These are all lifelong Republicans.

And yet it's being cast as this deep state conspiracy by Trump and his allies to delegitimize the president. So, I think more broadly speaking, it sends a chilling effect across the agency and the work that a lot of those career officials do.

And I don't think that it's going to -- I think you see in the president's attorney's attempts to walk it back, an immediate acknowledgment that he may have made a mistake here.

CABRERA: Such a good point, including most of these men, including McCabe, are Republicans. Now that he's been fired, though, is he free to speak freely about what he knows now that he's been fired, Josh?

CAMPBELL: Well, to some extent. As a former government employee who had a security clearance, he would still be bound by the restrictions that prevented disclosure of anything classified. But it does allow him to speak as far as his response to the political attacks he has seen on himself, on his wife, on his family over the course of the last year and a half.

I mean, this is something that's unprecedented, to have someone, a career servant, the deputy director of the FBI, who is now the focus of attacks from politicians. Look back in history. Does anybody remember any deputy director in the FBI by name, much less someone who has drawn such ire from leaders in government?

It is so unprecedented and my opinion, so inappropriate when you look at the fact he's a public servant. I think what we're going to see is him now able to tell his story. I hope he's able to do it. If he lays it out in a book, perhaps like Jim Comey did, we'll get a full telling of what happened, but I think we should stay tuned because I think he has a story to tell.

CABRERA: Josh, Paul, and Sabrina, thank you guys and girl.

Up next, a porn star and the president locked in a legal battle that could head to federal court. The president's attorney now says that Stormy Daniels could owe some $20 million for talking about her alleged affair. How her lawyers are responding, next.



CABRERA: A new twist in the Stormy Daniels case, the president's legal team is now officially involved. In court documents, attorneys representing both Michael Cohen and the president himself say the porn star could owe as much as $20 million for breaching a nondisclosure agreement that kept her from talking about an alleged affair with Donald Trump. They have filed papers to get this case out of California state court. Instead, they want to put this before a federal judge.

CNN's Sara Sidner has more.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: I say it's an allegation. You say it's a fact. SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The newest allegations from Stormy Daniels' attorney go beyond the suggestion of a mutual financial agreement between the porn star and the president's lawyer to pay for her silence, veering into allegations of physical threats and coercion to shut her up during a series of interviews.

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: The fact is that my client was physically threatened to stay silent about what she knew about Donald Trump.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: If she felt physically threatened, did she go to the police?

AVENATTI: Well, I didn't say she felt physically threatened, what I said was she was she physically threatened, and she was.

TAPPER: Did she go to the police?

AVENATTI: I'm not going to comment on whether she went to the police or not.

SIDNER: The White House is not confirming or denying the allegations of physical threats.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Obviously, we take the safety and security of any person seriously.

SIDNER: Saying only that it has no knowledge of Daniels' situation, but Avenatti is suggesting the White House should know to CNN's Jake Tapper.

TAPPER: Is there anything in the litany of accusations you would call them facts, that surround this case that happened while Donald Trump was president?


SIDNER: We asked but Avenatti would not provide any evidence to back up his assertions about physical threats. He has become ubiquitous on cable news over the last two weeks, playing cat and mouse with reporters. Dripping out new details of the story of the alleged sexual affair with Donald Trump in 2006 and the cover-up he says followed in 2016, just days before the presidential election.

What he has not done is tell her entire story. Pushing ahead to an interview with "60 Minutes" that will reportedly air March 25th.

AVENATTI: I think when people tune in to this interview, they're going to learn the details, the circumstances under which she signed the original agreement, as well as what happened thereafter relating to the threats and coercive tactics that were used to shut my client up.


SIDNER: We did reach out to Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's personal attorney, for comment. He did not respond. As for Mr. Avenatti, he says that six more women have come forward with what he says are similar stories to that of his client, referring to Stormy Daniels.

He says two of those women have nondisclosure agreements. He says, though, all of the women still need to be vetted and did not give further details about them. Sara Sidner, CNN, Los Angeles.

CABRERA: Thank you, Sara. We will be, by the way, speaking with Mr. Avenatti coming up in our 8:00 hour here inside the CNN NEWSROOM. Stay tuned for that.

Meantime, still ahead this hour, a stunning development after the deadly bridge collapse in Miami. A voice mail left just two days before this tragedy warned of cracks in that bridge. No one heard it until it was too late. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.



CABRERA: Someone knew that the pedestrian bridge in Miami had a potential problem, but they didn't think it was dangerous, as we show you live images of what happening on the ground there right now. We're learning an engineer for the company that designed the bridge called the Florida Department of Transportation on Tuesday, saying this new bridge had cracks in it. He left a voice mail that nobody heard until after the bridge collapsed. Here's part of it.


UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: I was calling to share with you some information about the FIU pedestrian bridge and some cracking that's been observed on the north end of the span, the pylon end of that span we moved this weekend. So, we have taken a look at it, and obviously, some repairs or whatever will have to be done, but from a safety perspective, we don't see that there's any issue there.


[17:30:00] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANHOR: CNN's Kaylee Hartung is in Miami for us near the place where the concrete bridge suddenly collapsed on Thursday. It fell onto the street, smashed at least a half-dozen cars below.

Kaylee, the cracks that that engineer was talking about on the voice mail, do we know exactly who knew about them?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ana, even though that voice mail you played wasn't heard by its intended recipient, a state employee at the Florida Department of Transportation, until the day after the collapse, the fact is that concern of the crack was addressed. We have learned there was a meeting Thursday morning about five hours before the collapse that brought together the design build team, contractors from MCM, the construction company, as well as Figg Engineers, including the one you heard from there, as well as representatives from FIU and the Florida Department of Transportation. That Figg engineer then gave a presentation with the conclusion he did not believe the cracks presented a security concern or a safety concern, I should say, rather, and said that the crack did not compromise the structural integrity of the bridge. Now, investigators say it is too early for them to determine how or if that crack played a role in the bridge's failure.

But the focus here, at the site of the collapse now, is on respectfully removing the remains of the victims.

Miami-Dade police director, Juan Perez, gave us an update on their progress this morning.


JUAN PEREZ, DIRECTOR, MIAMI-DADE POLICE DEPARTMENT: Earlier this morning, finally, our crews that were assisting us in this process were successful, after hours and hours of incredible work that they've been doing, were successful in removing two vehicles from under that rubbish. What I can tell you right now, we discovered three bodies within those two vehicles.


HARTUNG: After those two vehicles and three bodies were removed this morning, much of the focus today has been on simultaneously extracting two other vehicles, Ana, there are also more, more deeply buried beneath the rubble. Officials believe there are two more victims yet to be recovered.

CABRERA: Such a sad situation.

Kaylee Hartung, thank you for the latest information there.

Meantime, a diplomatic tat-for-tat. Russia expels 23 British diplomats after the U.K. kicked out Russian diplomats over the nerve agent attack on a Russian spy. So how can the West stop an increasingly emboldened Russia from carrying out political hits on their soil? We'll discuss next.


[17:38:05] CABRERA: Russia is now retaliating in response to significant new U.S. sanctions imposed by the Trump administration this week. Among those who are now part of these new sanctions, the 13 Russians indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for participating in the 2016 election meddling efforts. Moscow is responding by expanding its own blacklist of Americans.

The back and forth over Russia's 2016 meddling comes at an interesting moment. Right now, Russian voters are casting ballots in the country's 2018 presidential election there. Polls opened last hour.

Let's talk it over with Thomas Pickering, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, and David Andelman, former Southeast Asia bureau chief for "The New York Times." Ambassador Pickering, President Trump has been criticized for being

unwilling to take on Vladimir Putin. Are these new sanctions the appropriate response by the Trump administration?

THOMAS PICKERING, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: I think they're part of an appropriate response, including meddling in U.S. elections, assassinations in the United Kingdom, in which we're at least giving indications of standing firm with the British and Europeans. These are significant because, do we want a world in which assassinations go ahead? These are, of course, Russians in the main, but the British have said there are 14 deaths that they're looking back into, not all of them may be connected, but it is interesting. We had one after Mr. Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were attacked. A man who was also connected with Russian intelligence, apparently, died mysteriously and the British are saying it's murder or at least they're looking at it as murder. This is a very important set of developments that will require the full, I think, cooperation of the Western alliance on doing what they can to block these kinds of things.

[17:39:59] CABRERA: So we talk about the U.S. sanctions that include some of these individuals because of the Russian meddling.

Now you mention also the new developments in England, with the nerve agent that was used to attack a former British spy there, that's been blamed on Russia as well. And how they have now gone on this tit-for- tat expelling some of the Russian diplomats in that country and Russia retaliating as well.

David, to you, you say no country is doing enough to deal with Russia right now. Why do you feel the only answer is targeting their oil and gas exports?

DAVID ANDELMAN, FORMER SOUTHEAST ASIA BUREAU CHIEF, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, look, Senator McCain once said Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country. And he's right about that. The one thing that can really affect Russia is its ability to sell its oil and gas abroad. This is how Russia finances its military, it's how it stockpiles its weapons. How it builds its arsenal. This is the key to the heart of the Soviet economy, financial, business, everything having to do with Russian prosperity or even survival has to do with the ability of Russia to sell its oil and gas abroad. We need to really target that directly, as much as we did with North Korea. North Korean sanctions, we believe, have started to bite. We haven't just expelled a few, you know, spies or whatever, these 23 who have been expelled are without question FSB agents that Britain has gotten rid of, and the Russians have gotten rid of British agents they didn't care for. That doesn't help much at all. Even these targets of some of Putin's friends. Someday, we'll be able to visit their villas in the Riviera, but they'll go to the Black Sea instead. You know, this doesn't hit the heart of what is Russia. And we need to understand that. Not only that, in addition, I might add, if I may for a moment, Donald Trump has to really come right out and say this. He has not yet indicated that he is onboard for all of this. He needs to have a full and total public buy-in for this to really be believed in Russia.

CABRERA: Ambassador, we also learned this week that Russians attempted to penetrate the U.S. energy grid. In fact, we found out because Russia left tracks to show they had the ability to shut it down, but they didn't go through with it. What does that tell us about Russia's end game here?

PICKERING: What it tells us, I think, is we're vulnerable, and in a world of espionage, if you're vulnerable, you can expect other countries' intelligence services to try to penetrate it. I think David is right that we need to come tougher. The really interesting question is, we don't buy much Russian oil or Russian gas, but the price of oil and gas around the world depends a lot on the Russian supply. So one, we would have to convince the Europeans, who are heavily dependent on Russia to move. Two, we have to accept a higher price. Certainly, U.S. fracking oil would come back on the market with a stronger role, so we wouldn't, hopefully, expect prices at $120. But we have to pay something for that. And I'm not sure our western allies are yet ready for that. But I think the general point is here that the Russians will keep exploiting holes and opportunities as they see them. To imagine the U.S. is not doing the same with respect to opportunities in Russia, of course, is to belie reality.

CABRERA: David, what is your take on what we learned this week, specifically about the Russian attempts to hack the U.S. energy grid?

ANDELMAN: Well, it's certainly, they're ratcheting up at every given opportunity. One thing we have to recognize is this election that's happening beginning tomorrow, by tomorrow night, Russia will have elected its new czar. Basically, Vladimir Putin will have been given another six years and without question, he'll be able to get another six years after that if he wants. He's been elected, as in communist China, he has been elected president for life. He is a real autocrat. He can do whatever he wants, however he wants to do it. We need to confront him in every sense and recognize what he is up to and why he's doing this, to survive, to prosper, in many respects, to revive the old Soviet Union with his place in the world. We are beginning to fight that Cold War. We need to fight at that every opportunity that we can.

CABRERA: Ambassador, how does Putin stay so popular in his own country?

PICKERING: Well, I think, one, he has pursued policies that exult Russian nationalism and try to put Russia and Russians back on the map of the world leading powers, despite the fact I think he's nowhere quite near there in terms of economic power, certainly, and perhaps military power.

The second piece is that Putin seems to be playing more fast and loose with nuclear weapons and nuclear ideas, and I think we shouldn't be comfortable with, and I think we should be cautious about that. Those of us who were alive and remember the Cuban Missile Crisis and don't want to repeat it. We spent most of the Cold War after that, at least in diplomatic channels, trying to strengthen the stability of the nuclear deterrent because both sides recognized this was truly a dumb idea to get into a process in which escalation leading to accident, miscalculation or misjudgment would incinerate us all, including most of the globe. [17:45:32] I know a lot of experts around on how you get into a

nuclear war, but I haven't known anyone who has a real basis for understanding how you get out of it once it starts. So this is dangerous stuff as well.


PICKERING: We need to be very careful to push back on the low end, but we need to be very careful, obviously, to guard against the high end.

CABRERA: Gentlemen, thank you so much. Ambassador Thomas Pickering, David Andelman, good to see you. We appreciate your thoughts.

Coming up, United Airlines is already under scrutiny after a dog died in an overhead bin this week and another pet was mistakenly sent to Japan. Well now, a United Airlines flight diverted because a pet was on the wrong flight. How this airline is now responding, next.


[17:50:56] CABRERA: Imagine hurtling down an icy hill that twists and turns, all as your speed reaches around 50 miles an hour. That is the world of Downhill Ice Cross, the fastest sport on two skates. It's become so popular, you might even see it at a future Olympics.

Here's Sanjay Gupta.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is Downhill Ice Cross, the fastest sport on skates.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is a blur at times to be honest, because you are going super-fast. Sometimes you don't know what you did when you get the bottom of the track.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Going down a hill straight bombing it. In order to be good, you have to flirt with the line of whether you are going to bomb or make it to the finish line.


GUPTA: Yet, it was all created on a whim.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The story goes that a couple of guys had some bar in the Alps somewhere and they came out and the streets were frozen with ice. They were sliding down, bumping each other, and one said, what if we froze these streets and put hockey players on it.

GUPTA: An extreme sport was born. And nearly two decades later, it has grown into a world-class series of races called Red Bull Crashed Ice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First, it was just a fun thing. Now it is a sport that guys are training year-round on it and a 10-stop world tour. GUPTA: The season begins in St. Paul, Minnesota. The rules are

simple. Four skaters fly down a manmade track hitting speeds up to 50 miles per hour.


GUPTA: First to the bottom wins.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The first jump, you have to clear about 35 feet to hit the landing.

We have a crazy S-turn coming around, which will be chaos, and the guys are going to be crashing there, running into each other, and lots of lane changes and passing. It's going to be tons of action. It is getting to be fun.

GUPTA: Two-time champion, Cameron Naas (ph), a Minnesota native, fell short of winning in his own backyard.


GUPTA: Amanda Trunzo finished on top, ending the season as the first American women's world champion.

ANNOUNCER: It is going to Amanda Trunzo.

ANNOUNCER: Trunzo does it.

ANNOUNCER: She does it. And look at who is happy.

ANNOUNCER: She is fired up!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are inches from thousands of people on the track beside you. It adds a level of experience that you can't match.

We are developing association federations in order to get us into the Olympics. In my opinion, it will probably be the most-watched thing at year-one we could see at that stage.



CABRERA: And today, we began another year of introducing you to everyday people changing the world, our incredible "CNN Heroes." After Carol Rosenstein's husband was diagnosed with dementia, she felt him slipping away. She started to lose hope. Then one day, he sat down at the piano.



CAROL ROSENSTEIN, CNN HERO: I was seeing something magical happening before my eyes. The doctor told me that we were watching the power of music changing brain chemistry. (MUSIC)

ROSENSTEIN: Playing a musical instrument is like a full-body workout for the brain. The music actually resurrected him.



[17:54:00] CABRERA: To learn more about this story or if you want to nominate someone you think should be a "CNN Hero," log on to CNN

We'll be right back.


CABRERA: It has been a bad week for United Airlines, and for pet owners especially using United to transport their animals. In the latest incident, a flight that was supposed to be going from Newark to St. Louis was diverted to Akron, Ohio, Thursday after a pet was mistakenly loaded onto this plane. Well, after landing in Akron, United said that the pet was safely delivered to its owner. But that followed a Tuesday incident in which a dog was flown to Japan instead of Kansas. The German Shepherd was reunited with its family on Thursday. And worse yet, on Monday, a dog died after the flight attendant told its owners to put it inside a carrier in an overhead bin.

It truly was March Madness last night. Talk about a bracket buster. A number 16th seed beat a number-one seed for first time in the tournament's history at the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Well, The University of Maryland in Baltimore County, more known for chess than basketball, pulled off unbelievable upset against top-seeded Virginia. This was a trouncing. Final score, 74-54.




[17:59:43] CABRERA: Well, as you can see, it was all celebration in the UMBC locker room after the historic win. This is a Cinderella story all around. The team's point guard is from San Juan, Puerto Rico, a town ravaged by Hurricane Maria that left his family without water or power. And the Cavaliers came in as the top seeded in the tournament. They were favored by more than 20 points. Speaking of defeat, ESPN tweeted that UMBC's upset, there are officially --