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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Flynn Pleads Guilty to Lying to FBI: Cooperating in Probe; DOJ: Flynn Told Transition Official About Calls To Ambassador. Aired 4:30- 5p ET

Aired December 1, 2017 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR AT LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: What was the one person he raised with Comey I think more than once if I'm not mistaken -- Flynn.

[16:30:05] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes.

KRISTOL: I mean, he might have concerns about all kinds of other people, including his son in law and their exposure. I mean, they were all part of the investigation. Think of how (INAUDIBLE). Flynn was not the target of either Comey or Mueller's investigation, it was a broad investigation into Russian, you know --

TAPPER: Interference, yes.

KRISTOL: -- interference in the '16 campaign, and what the Trump campaign might have known.

The person on Trump's mind was Flynn. Why was that?

NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Because of what Flynn knew about him is the --

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: Well, does Trump -- does Trump know that he and Flynn were in conversations, activities or other things, whether it's in the campaign or before he became president or in the month in the White House in terms of obstructing justice? Did Trump know that Flynn was the most -- had the most sensitive knowledge about him --

TAPPER: That's interesting.

KRISTOL: -- and now, Flynn is the one who has flipped.

TAPPER: Because Gates and Manafort were the first two indicted and the president was not trying to get Comey to lay off of them.

I want to bring in CNN's Jim Acosta at the White House right now to get his reaction.

Jim, a White House lawyer said this is all on Flynn, but now, we have sources suggesting that Flynn was taking direction from Jared Kushner.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. And I talked to a senior White House official earlier this afternoon

who said not only Kushner but that there was a, quote, fulsome conversation among various officials inside the Trump transition about Michael Flynn's conversation with the Russian ambassador at the time Sergey Kislyak. This senior White House told me just a few moments ago that here at the White House, that they're not feeling any, quote, anxiety about Michael Flynn or what he might be saying to the special counsel's office.

They are saying at this point and we are checking with Obama administration sources on this, that they are saying here at the White House that Flynn's conversations with Sergey Kislyak were, quote, authorized by the Obama administration.

We should point out that is something that we have not heard before in terms of a defense from this White House. And the Obama administration has -- former officials with the Obama administration have not responded to us when we've checked on this. But Ty Cobb, a White House lawyer here, Jake, has also put out a statement that has a few holes in it.

We can put this up on screen and says today, Michael Flynn, a former national security adviser at the White House, for 25 days during the Trump administration and a former Obama administration official entered a guilty plea to a single count of making a single false statement to the FBI. Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn.

And, Jake, we should point out when the White House is trying to say that Flynn worked for the Obama administration, they are the neglecting to mention that President Obama fired Michael Flynn and tried to warn incoming President-elect Trump during that meeting in the Oval Office on November 10th to stay clear of Michael Flynn. And then, President-elect Trump did not heed that advice.

And so, there are some former Obama administration officials who are seething a little bit this afternoon, Jake, as the White House is trying to use them to shield the president from this Michael Flynn case -- Jake.

TAPPER: It's astounding. In terms of whether or not Flynn was authorized to talk to Kislyak, we're going to have Jim Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, on in just a second. We can ask him about it.

But I hear that the Obama administration is pushing back on some of the White House comments today.

ACOSTA: They are pushing back on it. They are saying, listen, to call Michael Flynn a former Obama administration official is laughable because he worked for multiple administrations and that Barack Obama himself in the Oval Office, remember, two days after the election, you'll remember those pictures that were taken outside the White House, Obama administration officials with tears in their eyes, distraught over the election results. Barack Obama tried to buck all of them up. But had this meeting with Donald Trump over here at the White House

and told President Trump -- President-elect Trump in that meeting, don't hire Michael Flynn and President-elect Trump did not heed that advice. So, there's -- you know, these former Obama administration officials are saying, wait a minute, you're saying he worked for us? That's rich.

So, it just goes to show you how this White House is looking for some cover from the Obama White House for Michael Flynn's activities when at the same time, the president is not really dealing with this much at all. I should point out, earlier today, I tried to ask the president as he was welcoming the Libyan prime minister here what about these, you know, this case against Michael Flynn?

He had no comment. Did not say anything to that question, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you so much.

Jackie, one of the other spins -- I mean, these are astounding spins that we're hearing --

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm dizzy.

TAPPER: -- from the White House, the idea that Flynn was a former White House official, not mentioning that Obama fired him.

But one of the other things we're hearing is an official with ties to the White House, close to the White House saying to Gloria Borger earlier today, hey, this is just a charge of lying, everybody in Washington, D.C. lies.

KUCINICH: Yes, but not to the FBI. I mean, that -- there in lies the problem. And this thing with blaming the Obama administration, they also, remember, when there were questions about whether he was even vetted for this position, they said, well, the Obama administration gave him his security clearance.

[16:35:04] So, we thought it was fine. We trust them.

It just -- there is no basis in logic.

TANDEN: Also, I mean, I mean, Michael Flynn, the charge here is he was trying to undo the impact of the sanctions. I mean, what happened here was the president actually -- President Obama had sanctions against Russia, which oddly enough the Trump campaign was trying to mitigate the damage around, the Trump administration.

And so, Mike Flynn was working against the interests of Barack Obama at the time that he was doing this. The whole thing is crazy.

KUCINICH: Details.

TANDEN: It's upside down, upside down.

KRISTOL: It's so inappropriate. Flynn's own statement I thought was dignified. He served -- I served the country in uniform for 33 years. The proper thing for the Trump White House to say is, we respect

General Flynn for his service. We think it's very unfortunate he's had to plead guilty to lying to the FBI. We know nothing about this and obviously we don't think President Trump has done anything wrong and we look forward to the investigation being finished.

The idea that you try to attack -- you know, make General Flynn, who was serving I believe in uniform -- he was a three-star general, sort of a creature of the Obama administration and denigrate him, I mean, it's such a foolish spin it seems to me from their own point of view, it makes you wonder if they have any sense of what they're in now for.

TAPPER: I don't know what they are -- their play would be other than what Bill says. But the fact is, I mean, the noose is growing tighter. I mean, obviously, first, you had three campaign officials, two indicted, one pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

KUCINICH: Right.

TAPPER: Now, you have a major player in the Trump campaign and the Trump White House pleading guilty to the FBI. If you look at the charges, if you look at the lies, it's all about Russia. It's all about favors for Russia, contacts with Russia. Foreign policy with Russia before President Trump was president. I mean, I don't know what they're -- they can say, but I certainly think that this nonsense about everybody lies or, you know, Flynn was an Obama official is just silly.

KUCINICH: But they've used the same playbook over and over. Like I said earlier, they keep on throwing whoever is in trouble under the bus and saying that the president had nothing to do with it, and that seems to be -- they seem to be running that over and over and over again. And thus farther haven't been any consequences for it, in terms of the president himself electorally. He's already pretty unpopular. So --

KRISTOL: The reason you have to say the president had nothing to do with it, they're worried there is an it that people are worried that the president has something to do with it.

I mean, I was in college during Watergate, I remember watching Richard Nixon on television, think, well, maybe it's true that Haldeman, that first, John Dean didn't tell him about these things and lying about Nixon's involvement. Or maybe Haldeman (INAUDIBLE) were handling it all, it's sort of what they want you to believe now, right, that Flynn and Jared Kushner were doing things and Trump presumably didn't know about them.

I mean, I think that's very -- the idea that Donald Trump didn't know about whatever General Flynn was doing with the Russians strikes me as ridiculous. So they're better off --

(CROSSTALK)

KUCINICH: But just know that the buck stops here isn't a thing in this administration. TANDEN: But what's weird about it is, his behavior since is what makes

him look the most guilty. I mean, he basically by trying to stop --

KRISTOL: He, Trump?

TANDEN: Donald Trump's effort, relentless effort to impede the investigation --

TAPPER: That's what's so odd, right?

TANDEN: -- is what makes him look like he's the one who is guilty.

TAPPER: And also --

KRISTOL: That's why he wants to impede the investigation.

(CROSSTALK)

TANDEN: You don't fire an FBI director. You up don't call members of the intelligence committee to stop an investigation if you think there is nothing at it that relates to you.

KUCINICH: It seems to be consuming him. I mean, there was a story this week about how he was going up to people on the golf course, strangers, and saying, hey, this Russia investigation, it's not a thing. I mean, it's to that point where it's just happening in casual conversations, he's blurting this out?

TAPPER: Yes. Well --

KUCINICH: I mean --

TANDEN: He's kind of acting guilty, just to be clear. I mean --

TAPPER: Well, the other thing is obviously one of the things that Mueller is looking into clearly is obstruction of justice. And based on just what we know publicly and what we know from the FBI and the Justice Department, the special counsel, there is a case there. I don't know that it would be a successful case, but there is a case there.

KRISTOL: Right. And the obstruction or part of it was trying to get Comey, like we said before, to let General Flynn get off the hook, which gets us back to the question of why he was so concerned that General Flynn ultimately not be the center of this investigation.

TAPPER: Stick around, everyone.

Shortly after the 2016 election, the former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told me he saw no direct evidence of collusion between the Trump transition team and Russia. Looking back, what about now?

We're going to talk to James Clapper. He's here with me right now. We'll talk to him after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: We're back with this major breaking news. The president's former national security adviser, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn pleading guilty today to lying to the FBI and now the announcement that he is cooperating with special counsel Mueller and the Russia investigation.

Joining me now is the former director of national intelligence in the Obama administration, James Clapper. He was the top intelligence official when Flynn was talking to the Russians.

I want to start with what the White House is saying because they are saying things relevant to the Obama administration. First, Jim Acosta, our White House reporter, just said that the White House is saying that Flynn's conversations with Ambassador Kislyak in which he was basically trying to do the Trump transition team's own foreign policy in contrast to the Obama administration's foreign policy, that that was with the blessings of the Obama administration.

Is that true?

[16:44:50] JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: That's absurd. That is absolutely absurd. There was great concern at the time, not just with this particular contact, but with the violation of the principle that has normally been followed of one president, one administration at a time. And that was what gave rise to because of all of these contacts that Mike was having and others in the transition with the Russians and other foreign entities, you know, what the -- what was this all about? So to say that we blessed it or acquiesced in it is a stretch.

TAPPER: The other thing that was interesting was the White House Attorney referring to Flynn as a former Obama administration official which is technically accurate -

CLAPPER: That's true.

TAPPER: But you fired him.

CLAPPER: That's right. You know, I officiated -- help efficient at his promotion ceremony to Lieutenant General. He worked for me on my staff for about 11 months and then I supported his move to be Director of DIA, an agency I was director of in the early '90s. It didn't work out, as sometimes is the case. And for good reason I believe, reasons I had, as well as Dr. Vickers who was then the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence. We both agreed that we thought that we needed to shorten his time as Director of DIA, which we did.

TAPPER: And I have heard -- first of all, we should recognize as he recognized in his statement that he served for more than 30 years in uniform. He has served in combat zones and, you know, there is a lot of service to admire there. But one of the things that is --that I've heard from contemporaries of his, from colleagues of his, is that sometime after he left the administration, after he had been fired, even though the Obama administration let him stay on for a few years to earn the pay grade retirement that he wanted, is that something happened, something changed and he grew angry and bitter.

CLAPPER: Well, no, I'm not a psychologist, but that comports with my informal, unofficial assessment that because Mike actually took the relief early pretty gracefully. And I do think that after that he changed and he became an angry man, became consumed with it. I think was engaging with any number of Republican candidates to latch on to them and as it turned out, he latched on to the one that won.

TAPPER: Now, as somebody who was in the Obama administration who had concerns about the Russian interference in the election, what is your reaction to today's news that Flynn has pleaded guilty and specifically to lying to the FBI about conversations he was having with the Russian Ambassador?

CLAPPER: Well, it's dramatic but not surprising. It was not in my take. I do know Mike's great devotion to his family. I, you know, I am surmising that the Special Counsel's office leveraged that awareness with respect to his son. And I think Mike would do whatever he could to preclude his son from legal jeopardy or even jail time. So I think that's, you know, and it is in a sense with respect to Mike kind of a tragedy in a way, given the service, long and distinguished service he rendered in the Army over 30 years, lots and lots of deployed time to Iraq and Afghanistan.

You have to acknowledge that. I think the overarching implication for me, the first thing that came to mind is that at least right now, the rule of law does prevail in this country. That to me is very important. Obviously huge implications for the White House, it's not a good day. You know, he's not a coffee boy. This is not a hoax. It's not fake. It's real. And I think as a friend and admirer of Jim Comey, I think there is a certain amount of vindication there.

I've often wondered what would have happened had he not been fired. Probably the outcome would have been the same. And I do think the larger interest here is served is to try to understand exactly what was going on with the transition, the campaign and the Russians. And we need to get to the bottom of what today remains still a mystery to me is this singular indifference to the threat posed by Russia.

TAPPER: And let's go out with that because I do want to ask you, in January he famously said -- or February he said that when you left the administration when you left your position as Director of National Intelligence, you had seen no evidence of collusion. A few weeks ago, I asked you that question and you said that there was -- there was a circumstantial case building and you were convinced that Vladimir Putin was able to play President Trump. Does today's news make your more suspicious of collusion? What do you think?

CLAPPER: Well, it does. Again, circumstantially, but, again, we haven't seen any smoking gun evidence of that. Now if anyone would know about that it would be Mike Flynn. So hopefully given the terms of his plea bargain, his agreement, that that -- the truth on this will come out. Because to me what's even more important and whether or not there was collusion, which is hugely important, is the threat posed by the Russians and the administration's singular indifference to that -- to that threat. And that to me is what is in terms of long-term concern for the country is that.

[16:50:17] TAPPER: General James Clapper, thank you so much. I appreciate your time, sir. The Special Counsel's investigation is closing in on the President. What could be the next domino to fall? Who could be the next domino to fall? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: We're back with the breaking news. The President's National Security Adviser, since fired Michael Flynn, pleading guilty, cutting a deal, flipping in the Russia probe. I want to remind our viewers about this moment from the Republican National Committee in July of 2016.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[16:55:05] MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Lock her up. That's right. Yes, that's right, lock her up. If I did a tenth, a tenth of what she did, I would be in jail today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: OK. Well, my panel's back with me. Neera, as a person who worked on the Clinton Campaign, supported Hillary Clinton, this must be an interesting week for Hillary Clinton supporters, seeing Michael Flynn actually having to plead guilty before a judge. Matt Lauer, who the Clinton campaign was not a fan of his, not having a good week either. There's something in the air, karma perhaps?

NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: I definitely -- I will say I do feel like there is a little karma, but, I mean, seriously, what's at the gist of this is that during the campaign there was actually discussions about Russia's role and those concerns, I mean, Hillary raised that Trump did -- was acting basically like Putin's puppet.

And everything we've learn since that time, the number of meetings that were taking place, Donald Trump's behavior has really confirmed the view that not only was he acting on behalf, there was a Trump was acting as if they were colluding with Russians. But they've act their foreign policy and the way they've acted ever since looks like they have -- that Putin has something on him as well.

TAPPER: So, bill, we should point out, of course, that the Republicans in the Senate announced that they have the votes to pass the Republican tax bill even though what exactly is in that bill is still up in the air because not everybody has seen it and things have been changed and added. This normally would be a celebratory week for President Trump, but he spent much of the early part of it tweeting out insane, bigoted retweets from a far-right group in England and now, of course, we have this.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR IN CHIEF, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I wonder if all of those tweet storms which were all designed to appeal to his base, attacking the NFL, playing the Muslim card, I can put it that way. There's some other topic which is very much about his own -- TAPPER: The media, Al Franken.

KRISTOL: Right. Attacking CNN and Al Franken. In retrospect, he used it, I guess his lawyers have been told that -- by General Flynn's lawyers that he was now cooperating with or potentially cooperating with Mueller. And I wonder if Trump kind of saw what was coming here and therefore maybe he was just disturbed and upset and decided to take it out on Twitter. But also there's a certain method to that madness perhaps just sort of reinforcing the base that (INAUDIBLE). But that is ultimately not a winning strategy, A, because the facts are going to come out, and, B, because the base isn't big enough. And these Republican Senators, I mean, they're going to get -- they'll pass the bill. We'll see what happens in conference.

When it goes to conference, whether it can go back to the House. I'm a little bit doubtful this bill is going to be such a wonderful boost to the economy as they think, but it will -- they will not be I believe, historically what this week is remembered for. I do think the Flynn thing is very big. I mean, it is someone who was at the very, very close to Donald Trump, the closest to Donald Trump on the matter on which the investigation is focused now cooperating across the board with the Special Prosecutor. And the many -- I think Preet Bharara said, well, you know, of course, they're looking at everyone.

Many crimes that are committed should be prosecuted. But at the end of the day, Mueller has an obligation to focus on Donald Trump. I mean, that's why he is the Special Prosecutor there. It's not to indict various people for various mishaps during the campaign. He doesn't -- you shouldn't focus in on the sense of being unfair or maybe you'll end up thinking there is nothing there that you can charge him with or refer to Congress, but, I mean, this is now focused in my view in that respect. We can get distracted a little by Jared Kushner and this and that, but at the end of the day, this is about Donald Trump and did he do something that he should be impeached for?

TAPPER: But the -- I guess the other question is whether or not Jared Kushner is a means to an end.

KRISTOL: Correct.

TAPPER: Whether or not instead of going from Flynn to Trump, to goes from Flynn to Kushner to Trump. That's just a theory. I don't know anything. But we know that Kushner Jacky is the very senior official directing Michael Flynn to -- on its face, based on what the Justice Department and the Special Counsel laid out, violate the Logan Act.

You don't get closer to Trump than his family and -- bottom line. I mean, they are -- they are his confidants. They're the people -- his daughter Ivanka is probably the closest member of his family unless she's talking about Roy Moore. So it's hard to think of anyone that would be more detrimental to the President in order to --

KRISTOL: Do you think son-in-laws or sons-in-law having to say that are really part of the family?

TAPPER: I don't think -- (CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: I know about sons-in-law but --

TAPPER: Not Jared -- no but Ivanka. Not Jared but Ivanka. Ivanka doesn't want her husband in trouble.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Exactly.

TAPPER: No, I don't think he cares about him.

KRISTOL: As much as we like sons-in-law in general.

TANDEN: It's all about Ivanka.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) it's all about Trump.

TANDEN: I agree, it's all about Trump.

TAPPER: Neera, Jackie, and Bill, thank you so much. It's great been having you. Join me tonight at 9:00 p.m.Eastern. We're going to have more coverage of the Flynn guilty plea and what this might mean for the President Trump and the Trump administration. I'm also going to lead this discussion Sunday Morning on "STATE OF THE UNION." My guest, Senator Mark Warner, the highest-ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee and also Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina. We'll talk about the tax bill with him as well. That's Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m. and again at noon. That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper, turning you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Have a great weekend.