Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Senate Set to Pass Republican Tax Plan; Michael Flynn Pleads Guilty in Russia Investigation. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired December 1, 2017 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:01]

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And several people told me that, from a legacy perspective -- obviously, Senator Flake is retiring -- that was a very important component of this.

The deal is now there, Brooke. They just need to actually have the votes.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Great for Republicans.

Phil Mattingly, the man who talks taxes in his sleep, I said it before. I will say it again. You have done a fantastic job. Thank you so much. We will be watching for that vote, whenever that begins.

Let's continue on here and talk about this breaking news on this Friday afternoon.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BALDWIN: You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.

Let's begin with the fact that the president is on possibly on the cusp of this landmark tax legislation, but it's history of another time totally eclipsing that milestone.

The first member of the Trump administration has just pleaded guilty in this Russia investigation. Ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has now cut a deal with the special counsel, Robert Mueller, admitting that Flynn lied to the FBI about his interactions with the Russian ambassador.

And while he certainly didn't say a whole lot as he was going in and coming out of the federal courthouse there this morning, Flynn's plea agreement does acknowledge that he is now cooperating with the special counsel's team.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: General Flynn, do you feel you have betrayed your country?

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: What about your son? QUESTION: Will your son be indicted? Will Trump pardon you?

QUESTION: Will Trump pardon you?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: All right, not saying a lot there.

But here is where he is sharing a statement. Let me quote this from you from Michael Flynn himself. "My guilty plea and agreement to cooperate with the special counsel's office reflect the decision I made in the best interests of my family and our country. I accept full responsibility for my actions."

Now, the White House has said this: "The false statements involved mirror the false statements to White House officials which resulted in his resignation in February of this year. Nothing about the guilty plea or charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn."

Let's go first to our CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz, just to get into some of the details of the Flynn offenses.

And so what exactly did he lie about to the FBI?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: All right, so he lied about the conversations that he had with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak.

Those conversations happened during the transition in December, the FBI interviewing him in January about those conversations. And it was during that interview that he lied about the nature of some of the details of that conversation. The conversations had to deal with Russian sanctions, had to deal with U.N. resolution that the U.N. Security Council was working on against Israel regarding settlements, questions that the FBI had to him about his discussions.

He downplayed some of the discussion, and just clearly just lied about them, did not reveal certain details to the FBI. And so now, based on everything they know and based on their investigation, they have brought charges against him and he's admitted to it. He's basically pleaded guilty and now he's cooperating, Brooke.

And one of the things that we don't know is why he lied. And I think that's part of still the investigation and perhaps his cooperation will help figure that out.

BALDWIN: Shimon, thank you. Keep digging.

Let's have a bigger conversation here with a couple of guests.

Joining me now, CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin, who used to be special assistant to Robert Mueller, when they were both at the Justice Department. Also with us, CNN contributor Garrett Graff, author of "The Threat Matrix: Inside Robert Mueller's FBI and the War on Global Terror," and Gloria Borger, our CNN chief political analyst.

And, Gloria, let just begin you Gloria.

I mean, we thought we would talking taxes and a major win for Republicans today. And, my goodness, what a huge piece of information that dropped today. What was your first just reaction when you heard about this?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, my first reaction was we kind of knew this was going to come. But we weren't quite sure whether he was cooperating or not cooperating.

Now we have discovered that he is cooperating. And what is interesting and important, and Michael knows so much more about this than I do, and probably Garrett as well, but what is so important here is that in the statement of offense what we see is that Flynn is telling them, you know -- they get him on lying.

They get him on lying about the sanctions, about the United Nations vote, about Turkey. What is very clear is that he says what he was doing was either with the knowledge of other people in the administration or at the direction of other people in the administration.

[15:05:08]

And there is a point in this, you know, you talk about transition official. Then there is language which says a very senior member of the presidential transition team.

And what we are seeing, I think, is sort of the peeling the layers of the onion here and trying to figure out, if Flynn lied to federal officials, did anybody direct him to lie, did anybody direct him to do something that he should not have been doing, i.e., conducting foreign policy before he was in office?

So this is sort of the beginning of the questions now that we all have to be asking.

BALDWIN: There was a phrase I heard, Michael Zeldin. Jeff Toobin was unaware of this phrase, but there's a phrase the better the deal, the bigger the fish.

And the better the deal, the bigger the fish meaning the better the deal that Michael Flynn has been given in this case, obviously, he faced many, many different counts, and they got him on this one charge, right, maximum five years. It's a deal. What does that tell you? What information might he be sharing?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I guess the expression would have to in this case relate to the very top of the transition team, including the president-elect himself, because it seems to me that if what has been reported publicly about Flynn, which is that he's engaged in conduct that is very similar to what Paul Manafort engaged in, only over a shorter period of time for less money, than Manafort sits now locked up at home facing 80 years or so in prison.

And here's Flynn pleading to the one-count information with a five- year maximum and with cooperation six months likely sentence. That tells you that he has to be cooperating about people who are important to Mueller and the investigation that Mueller has.

And that's a very small handful of people. It could be the president, it could be his son, it could be his son-in-law, it could be Steve Bannon, it could be Reince Priebus Priebus. There are just a few people who seem to fit into Mueller's mandate that are more important, if anyone is more important, than is General Flynn.

So I think it's a reasonable deduction to make from what happened today, but it is just that. It's speculation.

BALDWIN: Springboarding off of that, though, on your point about who it might have been, Garrett, to you, we know that General Flynn was -- he's this retired three-star general, right, dedicated his life to this country.

To do this without any sort of instruction, Michael is right, the question is, if he was directed by senior officials, who would those senior officials have been, A? And, B, wouldn't also the other question be who might he have shared this information with?

GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, I mean, Michael is exactly right this is relatively small universe of people.

If you are the national security adviser on the transition, incoming White House national security adviser, there just aren't that many people who can direct you to be doing something.

But I think it's also important to not look at this in a vacuum. What we saw today is actually the second piece of what seems to be very significant evidence that Bob Mueller now has up his sleeve, because remember in the last round of cases that came down, George Papadopoulos also pled out as part of a cooperation agreement.

BALDWIN: Right. So what does Mueller do with it?

(CROSSTALK)

GRAFF: Well, so we don't know yet as far as we can tell what George Papadopoulos gave up that was so significant to get that plea deal.

So between Papadopoulos and Mike Flynn, you now have two, at least to Mueller, very important pieces of evidence that have not yet been made public.

BALDWIN: So if you are at the White House today, Gloria, and we know they canceled the photo-op with the Libyan P.M., would have been an opportunity for people like you and me who cover the White House, or the White House press corps, to shout questions at the president.

All along, we have seen Sarah Sanders behind that podium and the president as well saying this is a low-level investigation, it's going to wrap up soon. Michael Flynn is no coffee boy. I mean, this is -- if you are at the White House, how are you feeling? BORGER: Well, I mean, I have spoken with someone at the White House,

and what they are trying to do is downplay all of this and, again, as Ty Cobb just did in the public statement, say this is about Michael Flynn, that it has nothing to do with the president.

And they make the case there are no tentacles here. But there are tentacles. If you read this, they are there in black and white. And I think -- I would bet the president is kind of fuming and trying to figure out what to do next.

[15:10:11]

Don't forget, Michael Flynn was the fellow the president tapped Jim Comey on the shoulder about, and said, you know, could you go easy on Michael Flynn? He's a good guy. He's a good guy.

And so they did have a relationship. Neither Michael Flynn nor anybody else, I believe, in that transition would act on their own, on matters of state.

And I think there are larger questions here about who knew what and when, including for the president of the United States, and including for all of his top advisers.

And then you have to step back one more time and say, OK, say they were doing this stuff and they shouldn't have because they were not in government yet. Take one more step back and you have to ask the question, why? Why? Why were they doing this? And, again, we have to peel that layer of the onion.

GRAFF: And I think one of the things right there...

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Go ahead, Garrett, then Michael.

ZELENY: I was just going to say, to that exact point, the question is whether or not what we see here is sort of the backside of the collusion allegations that Mueller is investigating.

That is, you could create a timeline where, if there were collusion, the collusion goes, we will help you get elected by giving you dirt on Hillary Clinton or disseminating WikiLeaks or running social media, and then, when you are elected, you can ask us favors and we will ask you favors.

And so here is the first favor, asking Russia about the U.N. vote that matters so much to Israel. And there is the second favor of, let's talk about sanctions. Don't respond to the Obama sanctions, because when we get in there, we are going to get rid of Magnitsky Act, which you hold as a thorn in your side.

So this could be the continuum of that. And so Ty Cobb would be very wrong about that. Or these could be freestanding, disconnected to the collusion, allegations, and then Ty Cobb is right. But that's what Mueller has to find out now. BALDWIN: But the notion that the president, through these many

months, and "The New York Times" and other reporting today about how it was over the summer the president tried saying to Richard Burr, the Senate Intel Committee chair, let's kill this Russia investigation, let's end it.

And we have -- we found a list of seven different people that the president essentially said, please, let's end, let's scrap this investigation. My overarching question and last thought from you, here are the people he talked to, reportedly.

Garrett, why would the president try to kill the Russia probe?

GRAFF: Well, I think this is the big question, is that we don't know what actions and behavior he was trying to cover up, if he was actually trying to cover something up. I mean, it could be he was trying to help Mike Flynn have a problem go away because he liked Mike Flynn.

It seems unlikely, based on how consistent the lies that the Trump campaign officials have been caught in about their contact with Russia, that it's simply Mike Flynn is a really good guy and he got himself in a jam.

BALDWIN: Yes, we are going to leave it.

Garrett and Michael and Gloria, there is still so much we don't know. Thank you all so much on this Friday.

We have more on this breaking news. Legendary journalist Carl Bernstein will join me live next with his opinion.

Also, we will share reaction on Capitol Hill to this guilty plea of Flynn. Will Republicans look to distance themselves from all of this that is happening and potentially from the White House?

And how Wall Street reacted the moment this news broke. You are watching CNN's special live coverage. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:18:25]

BALDWIN: We are back with the breaking details here out of Washington.

Among some of the details that we are learning about General Michael Flynn's cooperation agreement, Flynn will be interviewed in the future by federal prosecutors and law enforcement, but that he will not be allowed to have a lawyer with him in those meetings.

He also cannot plead the Fifth to avoid answering questions. And there is also the possibility he could be subjected to a lie-detector test.

So let's bring in Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Carl Bernstein here with us at CNN.

Carl Bernstein, I mean, listen, I don't need to remind people you broke Watergate. That investigation took more than two years. What do you make of the developments today and the speed to which Mueller seems to be moving?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: They're hugely significant, these developments, especially because they talk about General Flynn, who is central to the campaign officials talking to Donald Trump during the transition and during the campaign.

And it indicates he's pled that he has lied related to those discussions in part. So why was he lying? Why is he lying about things related about Russia and lying about things related to, of all things, discussion of sanctions, which is the Holy Grail for the Russians in terms of what they wanted this new president, this new presidency to do, was to undo the sanctions imposed by the Obama administration.

But what you are talking about in the details with...

BALDWIN: The cooperation agreement?

BERNSTEIN: ... the cooperation agreement in part shows exactly how strong this vice is that Mueller has put General Flynn in, and that he can tighten the lever on the vice, particularly through tools -- yes, you cannot in a courtroom use evidence obtained from a lie-detector test, but can certainly use that test to squeeze the defendant harder and harder for information and threaten him with further indictment, perjurious information, et cetera, et cetera.

[15:20:30]

The other significant thing about this is, it is not proof of collusion, what is in this statement. It is definitely not proof of collusion. But it shows how methodical Mueller is in building a case that there was something, some kind of conspiracy going on within the campaign that Mueller -- that General Flynn was party to, talked to those above him about, and it also goes to the question of, why is Donald Trump lying over and over and over again about matters related to Russia?

BALDWIN: On Flynn, though, and the fact is, he's admitted that, yes, he did lie to the FBI. But it's interesting. I know you have seen his statement today, and he talks about how he's endured all these months of false accusations of treason. Right? This is the word he uses, treason.

Carl, what does that signal to you about what he's willing to say?

BERNSTEIN: It signals, as I said earlier on air today, that he is not willing to say in some way that he -- quote -- "colluded" with the Russians to undermine Americans' election, the free and democratic process of elections in the United States. That's what is indicates to me. Look, we only have a small look right now at what Mueller is doing.

But what we see is that he's making great progress in going up the chain. The question is, is this going to be something like Watergate, where, as you go up the chain, the president of the United States is implicated both in obstruction of justice and in terms of a conspiracy of the facts to undermine the democratic process, which is what also happened in Watergate?

Or is it more perhaps like Iran-Contra, where those below the president, at the level of Flynn and other advisers in the national security bureaucracy particularly, ended up going to jail, were indicted, yet the president of the United States was basically untouched in that criminally in that investigation?

We have a long way to go here. But what we see now is, look, nobody can say with a straight face who has any sense of objectivity that this is about fake news at this point. This fake news business is gone. Nobody can claim that, especially the president, with any kind of reality.

And the other thing is, a lot of what we are seeing is about the president's hold on reality, how he has responded to these investigations. What will he do next now that he sees Mueller closing in more particularly on members of his family?

It's unquestionable that among those alluded to in the statements by General Flynn is Jared Kushner, his son-in-law.

BALDWIN: Right. And we know one of the multiple people over the course of the last, you know, let's say, eight, 10 months, that he said to, hey, let's end this Russian investigation, let's finish this, is the guy he fired, you know, who was the head of the FBI, James Comey.

And I don't know, Carl, if you have seen his tweet today. It's not like James Comey tweets a whole heck of light, but he shared this quote: "Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream, Amos 5:24."

BERNSTEIN: Actually, Comey has been doing a heck of a tweetstorm himself. He does tweet a lot, and it's very interesting on its own in terms of looking at the psychology of James Comey. But that's another question.

The real thing now is, we are seeing Mueller showing the outlines of a possible conspiracy and going up the chain. We also have to look at how Donald Trump is reacting and whether there is an obstruction of justice involving covering up the things that Flynn talks about in the statement.

That certainly is the suggestion of what we are seeing in some of the papers filed with the court today. But, at the same time, I think we do need to say it is certainly not prima facie evidence of any kind of collusion at this point.

BALDWIN: I got you. BERNSTEIN: But let me make one other point here. And that is what we

are seeing is the degree to which the Russians had the Trump people in their pocket, not necessarily illegal, but not just General Flynn.

[15:25:10]

But we now are beginning to see how the Russians were able to manipulate this campaign, manipulate the president in terms of their desire to get these sanctions removed.

That is devastating in itself. Whether criminal or not, we will find out. But we are seeing just how effective the Russians were in getting to these people and working their way on the highest officials in the United States, the national security adviser to the president of the United States, and those in his campaign.

BALDWIN: According to our correspondent in Moscow, the reaction so far to this today in Russia has been horrified silence, horrified silence.

Carl Bernstein, thank you as always. Appreciate you.

BERNSTEIN: Good to be there.

BALDWIN: We will, of course, tackle all the politics of this next with Democratic Hilary Rosen and former Republican Senator Rick Santorum.

Also, close eye on Capitol Hill today, where Republicans say they have the votes to pass their tax plan -- details on the wheeling and dealing that they have made to get at least 50 on board.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)