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Flynn Pleads Guilty to Lying to FBI and is Cooperating in Probe; Jared Kushner is the "Very Senior" Trump Transition Member Who Told Flynn to Contact Russian Ambassador. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired December 1, 2017 - 15:30   ET

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


[15:30:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Back with breaking news here on CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me on this Friday. The breaking news is that President Trump former security adviser, Michael Flynn, has cut a deal. Flynn pleading guilty to lying to the FBI. Admitting that he misled these investigators about his interactions with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. He now faces up to five years in prison. With me now Hillary Rosen, CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist. And Rick Santorum, a former Republican senator from Pennsylvania an eight CNN senior political commentator. Great to see both you. Welcome, welcome.

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Great to be here.

BALDWIN: On a day we thought we would be talking taxes and now.

SANTORUM: Notice the little box there on there.

BALDWIN: No, it's great new.

SANTORUM: Mitch McConnell says we have votes for tax reform.

BALDWIN: Good try Senator. We are reeling in on Michael Flynn.

SANTORUM: Can we do a little pivot here.

BALDWIN: No, we're not. The White House is downplaying this whole thing.

SANTORUM: Yes, they are.

BALDWIN: We know the photo op was canceled. We know that the White House has been sort of saying all along this is a low-level investigation. Wrapping soon. I mean, you are seeing the news here. Michael Flynn is no coffee boy, Senator.

SANTORUM: No, look, this is serious move not in the right direction for the Trump folks. I don't think any question about that. The question is, I was listening to some of the earlier parts of the show, and I just think we have to be very careful about how much speculation is fueled on top of this fire.

BALDWIN: No, there is a lot we don't know.

SANTORUM: Yes. And so, I was hearing, well, it could be this and it could be that.

BALDWIN: Right, sure.

SANTORUM: And the answer is even from the all the documents related to the plea, there is it real wide swath in where this thing could go to. Fairly benign.

BALDWIN: But still, the fact he was directed by senior administration officials, or senior transition officials, there are only a few names who that could have been.

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Who were more senior than him.

BALDWIN: Who were more senior them him. Up the food chain, above him, who would have directed him to do this. So that's significant.

ROSEN: Whether or not this has legal implications for President Trump, I think it has credibility implications, and that's what I'm really focusing on today. Which is based on what Michael Flynn said, the president has been lying. And for months and months and months about what happened. And you know, maybe that leads to an obstruction of justice charge from Bob Mueller. Maybe it leads to some collusion charges. But at a minimum the credibility for the President with the American people for months saying there was nothing to this. Defending Michael Flynn when Barack Obama suggested he fire him. All of this leads to I think a huge trust factor with the President of the United States.

SANTORUM: I differ with that. And I understand why you are going there. But I think if it was any other leader, I would say that you are speculation, and that's what it is, speculation is true somehow touched the President. But I think what the President has always said, and you know this, and you will back me up on this. Everything the president says is always ultimately about one person, him. It's not about his organization. Even sometimes he says I don't know what they did, but I didn't do anything. And I think to suggest that somehow the President knew is speculation.

BALDWIN: We don't know that.

SANTORUM: That's what you were just saying. You talk about the credibility of the President saying there is nothing here. And in his mind, I believe, the President doesn't believe anything. I don't think the President knew anything.

BALDWIN: How do you explain that it was the times this morning saying it was Richard Burr, that the chair of the Senate Intel committee -- who apparently over the summer -- the president had to pull a side and said, hey, can we end this investigation. And there's like seven other people had that conversation with. Why is he trying to kill it?

SANTORUM: OK. So, let's make this basic assumption.

ROSEN: Here's the problem though. Is that there is this consistent sort of acceptance by my friends on the other side of the aisle. That the president's really just, you know, a talker. And so, we shouldn't really take what he says seriously. It shouldn't really matter. He's just fantasizing about his own views and whether or not this gets to him or not. And I think the seriousness of what happened today shows that we can no longer just sluff this off when we have comments from the President the way we have them. It is not acceptable to just have this be about the president's ego. It's not about the president's ego.

[15:35:02] SANTORUM: I'm not suggesting it's about the President's ego. I think it's about the President's perception what is going on here. And the President perception of what is going on this is somehow suggesting that he personally was involved in some sort of collusion with Russia.

ROSEN: It's not perception. It either happened or it didn't happen.

SANTORUM: And what I'm saying is I think the President is 100 percent convinced based on his own experience, that he had nothing to do with that. And that if someone underneath him that he had no knowledge of that. So that's why he's saying this is fake. This is not right. Because in his world, based on his experience.

ROSEN: Listen to what you are saying, Rick. The president is it convinced that based on what he says he's right.

SANTORUM: Yes.

ROSEN: You can convince yourself of anything if you are Donald Trump.

SANTORUM: No, I'm saying that he did not collude. He knows he didn't collude. And therefore, he sees everything being charged that somehow implicates him is just false.

BALDWIN: Hang on, hang on. Here's my question. Because you make the point about your friends across the aisle and not saying X, Y and Z. At what point will -- because we know we heard from Chairman Burr saying to fellow Republican senators today, don't take to the media. Let's not make public comments on what's happening over at the White House.

ROSEN: He knows something more.

BALDWIN: I'm just saying, I'm reporting what we know. So, at what point what will happen when Republicans will say, all right, something stinks here or distances themselves from the White House. When will Republicans do that?

SANTORUM: Look, I think you are seeing it already.

BALDWIN: Are we?

SANTORUM: I think you are seeing it already.

BALDWIN: Other than Flake and Corker, who else are we seeing?

SANTORUM: Well, I am saying, the fact that more and more are not commenting and they're sort of staying away from the story. They're not rallying to the defense of the president.

BALDWIN: You think that speaks volumes?

SANTORUM: Absolutely. And they are waiting to see what other shoe is going to drop. And how high up it does go. And so, the fact that Flynn pled guilty and implicates others, then we are going to wait and see how that happens. No, I don't think you'll see Republicans rush to support the President. And we keep coming back. And this has always been the sort of the odd part of the story, is that Republicans have been generally very hostile to Russia and Democrats have been the ones who for historic been trying to create better relationships with Russia. Giving Hillary reset with Russia. So, I don't think you're going to see Republicans -- particularly hawks -- come to the defense of the President when it comes to the issue of Russia. So, it's a combination of factors.

ROSEN: Look, I think Republicans right now are so twisted in their standards for what is acceptable behavior and what isn't acceptable behavior. Twisted enough -- and that goes back to this first issue -- twisted enough to take 30 blind amendments to a tax bill that they haven't even read and vote for it just because they think that they need to for political expediency. This constant support of Donald Trump will fall into that same category.

BALDWIN: Let me interrupt you because on this conversation I want to keep you here to react to this. We are all getting this now. This is the breaking news as we're talking about who might this senior person be. This is what we just have according to a source, it's Jared Kushner. Jared Kushner is quote, the very senior member of the presidential transition team. He is the one according to reports who directed Michael Flynn to then contact the Russian ambassador and other countries regarding this United Nations Security Council vote on Israel settlements according to sources familiar with the matter. So, guess no longer according to sources, it is the President's son-in- law. Your response, Senator?

SANTORUM: If you were going to give me a list of who it would have been, that would have been my first choice, given everything going on surrounding Kushner and his refiling of all his reports and his contacts and communications.

BALDWIN: Does the White House have a problem?

SANTORUM: Well, I mean, White House had a problem period, and I think I admitted to that. And I think it's clear they do. The fact that President son-in-law, yes, that's one step closer to the president.

ROSEN: Let's look at this time period four when Jared Kushner would have directed these conversations with Michael Flynn. The time period was when Jared Kushner did not leave Donald Trump's side during the campaign and in the first several weeks of the administration. Everything he did was specifically in support of the President. The President constantly talked about Jared being his best confidential adviser. Jared Kushner was a real estate --

BALDWIN: Developer. ROSEN: -- developer before he got into this job. Do you think he

came on his own to think that maybe he should talk about settlements or talk about sanctions with Russia? He would have known nothing about any of these issues without conversations?

SANTORUM: Oh, well, I think --

BALDWIN: Let me bring Gloria Borger into this, Again, as we're getting the breaking news that it is Jared Kushner. The President's son-in-law who was the one who directed Michael Flynn on all of this that has gotten Michael Flynn into big, big trouble here. Gloria Borger what more do we know?

[15:40:00] GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, we know that Jared Kushner was the person who was the point man on all things related to the Middle East and Israel. And we have multiple sources here, myself and Dana Bash and Jim Sciutto saying that in fact he is the very senior member of the Trump transition team who was directing Flynn on his contacts with the Russian ambassador regarding this issue.

You know, it's no coincidence that the special counsel interviewed Jared Kushner earlier this month on Flynn. And, you know, the question we have to ask now is what was the nature of those questions that they were asking Jared Kushner. And did it relate to these questions of your communication -- Jared Kushner's communications with Michael Flynn regarding a number of substantive issues. I presume now including contacts with the Russian ambassador. So, you know, this is not a surprise. But you know we are all kind of trying to check our sources now to figure out just the nomenclature here and who the special counsel is referring to regarding certain conversations.

BALDWIN: OK. You want to put a button on this?

SANTORUM: Yes, look, I think it's really important to sort of step back and say what we are talking about here are communications after the election. OK. So, and this goes back to the point that Hillary was trying to make about Trump. Which is what the whole accusation it is here, in the macro sense is, the Trump campaign colluded with Russians to help him win the election. Everything we are talking about here is post-election. So, what you have to assume, and it is a big assumption in my mind is that there was some quid pro quo that occurred before the election that is resulting in action after the election. As far as we see we have no evidence of that.

ROSEN: I'll just say that the reason Bob Mueller was appointed special investigator was to determine whether there was an obstruction of justice. Whether Donald Trump tried to prevent an analysis by the FBI into looking into this issue. That is a post-election problem and an action by the President of the United States.

SANTORUM: I understand that. But that is not the larger narrative that has been driven.

ROSEN: But it is the issue as to whether or not -- SANTORUM: I am not disagreeing there aren't legal problems. But I'm

saying what's happened today does not significantly in my mind impact the larger narrative.

BALDWIN: That's not fully connected yet.

SANTORUM: Yes.

BALDWIN: Yes, I got you. Senator Santorum, thank you very much. Hilary Rosen, good to see you. Gloria, I appreciate you jumping back on and helping us report out the breaking news.

Meantime, coming up here we are going to break down the timeline of this Flynn investigation. What President Trump has to say about his former national security advisor and more on breaking news on Jared Kushner. Fareed Zakaria joins me live next.

[15:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: All right. We've got the breaking news coming out of the special counsel Robert Mueller Russia probe here. That former Trump national security advisor, Michael Flynn, pleaded guilty about lying to FBI about meetings with Russian officials. And the other piece of the breaking news was the fact that Jared Kushner -- according to the sources -- Jared Kushner is the very senior member of the presidential transition team who directed Michael Flynn to have these contacts with the Russian ambassador.

So, let's pause for a minute and break down the timeline of events leading up to where we are here today. According to this court filing, Flynn talked to the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak -- that was back on December 22 -- asking him to delay or defeat a vote on a U.N. Security Council resolution regarding Israeli settlements. We just learned the Jared Kushner news, right, that Jared Kushner was the one who directed him to make the call. Flash forward to 29th of December. He talks to Kislyak again about the sanctions that the U.S. imposed on Russia and Russia's response to that. Those are the two conversations the FBI says Flynn lied to them about. And then nearly a month later the White House was still denying that there was anything inappropriate about those contacts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I talked to General Flynn about this again last night. One call talked about four subjects. One was the loss of life that occurred in the plane crash that took their military choir. Two was Christmas and holiday greetings. Three was to talk about a conference in Syria on ISIS. And fourth was to set up to talk about after the inauguration setting up a call between President Putin and President Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Now the day after we saw Sean Spicer there, so, January 24th that's when Flynn was interviewed by the FBI. That's when he apparently lied. But he didn't resign until three weeks later after admitting he misled the vice president about these conversations about the Russian ambassador. This is what President Trump had to say about it at the time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When I looked at the information, I said I don't think he did anything wrong, if anything he did something right. He was coming into office. He looked into the information. He said, huh, that's fine. That's what they are supposed to do. They are supposed to do -- he didn't call Russia. He called and spoke to both ways, I think there were 30 some odd countries. Doing his job. He was just doing his job. The thing is he didn't tell our vice president properly and then he said he didn't remember. So, either way it wasn't very satisfactory to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[15:50:04] BALDWIN: Just a little context. Michael Flynn is the first person inside President Trump's administration to be reached by the Mueller investigation and he says is he fully cooperating.

Fareed Zakaria is here with me. Host of "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS," and just minutes before you sat down, everyone had been wondering, you know, the list would be short as to who would be above Michael Flynn on the food chain there in the transition team and the news is in that it was Jared Kushner who directed him to make this call. Your response to that?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: Well, it does seem now -- it's very clear that the Trump administration really from the president on down was trying to change policy towards Russia. Was trying to in some way or the other assure the Russians that there would be a new policy that perhaps sanctions would be lifted, that the United States was going to do things differently with them. The question, of course, you know, remains unanswered, is was this payback for something during the campaign?

BALDWIN: Quid pro quo.

ZAKARIA: What we are listening to now is all of these things that have happened after the campaign, after Trump is in office when he's president and he's surprisingly reaching out to the Russians and being nice to them. I mean, this is kind of if you think about it, it's very odd for a president in his first few weeks in office not to reach out to our closest allies in Europe, the Brits, people like that, the Chinese, you know, the second largest economy in the world. No, there is concerted efforts made to reach out to the Russians and to suggest to them, we're going to be very nice to you and here's what we want. So, the question that we don't know is, why were they doing that? This has always been the puzzle of the Trump campaign and presidency. Why this particularly benign attitude towards Russia?

BALDWIN: What about the evolution of the defense then, right, in doing this? Initially we -- they weren't really truly in touch and it was about only -- you heard Sean Spicer say X, Y and Z to now saying, what -- ZAKARIA: It's important to point out that what Sean Spicer said was,

in fact, lies. That was false.

BALDWIN: Right.

ZAKARIA: The White House has repeatedly lied on this. Flynn lied to the FBI about it, as we now know. He's pleaded to a felony. So, that in itself raises a question. If there is nothing here, why is everybody lying? Right?

BALDWIN: Why does president Trump keep asking people, Comey, Burr and the list on down to kill the investigation?

ZAKARIA: There is just sort of a -- exactly. There is a lot of smoke around this and it's not entirely clear what's going on. There is a legitimate defense I suppose, which is we were trying to have a strategic rapprochement with Russia. We were trying to do a reset, to use the word Hillary Clinton used when she was --

BALDWIN: The Russian reset.

ZAKARIA: Fine. Why lie about it? Why tell the FBI to stop looking into it? Why? You know, that's the part that we still don't understand what is this, you know, how does this relate to this issue of Russian interference before the campaign and are the two connected?

BALDWIN: 30 seconds, now that the know according to sources that it was Jared Kushner, what's the next big question?

ZAKARIA: Honestly, I don't think there is another big question because if it's Jared Kushner --

BALDWIN: We know. That's it.

ZAKARIA: -- it's essentially the President. I don't think you get closer to the president than Jared Kushner.

BALDWIN: Wow. Fareed Zakaria, thank you. You can watch Fareed, of course, on "GPS" Sundays at 10:00 eastern here on CNN.

Coming up next here, Capitol Hill. Breaking news there. Republicans say they have the votes they need to pass this tax plan. We will take you live to Washington coming up.

[15:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Voting is now underway for the CNN Hero of the Year. This is one of the top ten, Erin Valencia.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ERIN VALENCIA, CNN HERO NOMINEE (voice-over): Custom cars set me and my life in a whole different direction. I started smoking meth at about 14 or 15, the first time I ever shot heroin. Robbing and stealing. The judge committed me to a year of drug treatment. I walked into rehab and never looked back. My life completely changed. I open up a small shop.

(on camera): Oh, you came here to work? That's what I like to hear.

(voice-over): Kids were kind of gravitating towards to shop to see what was going on. So it was like, let's have them come here and they can actually learn a trade, learn a lesson, learn something to better their life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He taught us like to put the wheels on there. He inspired me because I always wanted to be a mechanic.

VALENCIA: We cater to foster, at-risk and low-income youth in the community.

(on camera): We're not looking for perfection, we're just looking for better than yesterday.

(voice-over): I'm just trying to be someone who sees where they're at right now and what they're going through and offer a bit of stability.

(on camera): If any of you guys ever thought that you're out there in this world alone and nobody's got your back, there's a lot of people have your back right now.

(voice-over): They're learning. They're somewhere positive. It was a win for all of us.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BALDWIN: That's awesome. Please vote for any of your favorite top ten heroes. Go to CNNheros.com.

Before I let you go here, again, we have just learned from the senior White House official that President Trump has been briefed on legal situation with Michael Flynn and is reportedly feeling quote, unquote, no anxiety about the situation. The source also says the President is apparently feel sorry for Flynn and his family. So of course, stay with us here at CNN as we continue the special live coverage with my colleague Jake Tapper. I'm Brooke Baldwin, have wonderful weekends. "THE LEAD" starts right now.