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INSIDE POLITICS

Michael Flynn Cuts A Deal, Pleads Guilty To Lying To FBI; Sen. Graham Urges Trump Not To Pardon Michael Flynn; McConnell On Tax Plan: We Have The Votes. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired December 1, 2017 - 12:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Major breaking news this hour on the Special Counsel investigation into Russian election meddling.

President Trump's fired National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, just a short time ago cutting a deal at a plea agreement hearing in federal court in Washington, D.C. General Flynn pleading guilty to lying to the FBI admitting he misled investigators about his interactions with the former Russian Ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. General Flynn now facing the possibility of five years in prison.

What Flynn lied about has long been a critical focus of the Russia probes across the government. Whether Flynn asked the Russians to go easy and not retaliate after the United States under the Obama administration and full sanctions on Moscow back in December 2016. Remember, that's during the presidential transition period. Prosecutors now say Senior Trump transition officials at Mar-a-Lago knew about this conversations as they were happening.

Shimon Prokupecz joins us live from here in Washington, D.C. Shimon, take us inside the courtroom. What happened?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes. So, John, it was just a short time ago that Michael Flynn stood before the court, accepted responsibility for lying to the FBI and pleaded guilty. And I think the key here is you heard prosecutors lay out some of their evidence, some of what was going on.

And exactly what you just said about his conversations with people in Mar-a-Lago seemed to be an important aspect of this investigation because they raised it in court. There is some significance to it. What is significance is is something we're still trying to figure out.

But Flynn did plead guilty, a huge development here. He took responsibility and just a short time later issued a statement. Let me go ahead and read that to you and it says, "I recognize that the actions I acknowledged in court today were wrong and that my faith in God, I am working to set things right." He says. "My guilty plea and agreement to cooperate with the Special Counsel's Office reflect a decision I made in the best interest of my family and of our country." And then he says, "I accept full responsibility for my actions."

Clearly, a crucial decision, a big decision for Michael Flynn to do this. And you know, we know people have been visiting him at his home to talk to him. And finally, he made the decision -- he says in his statement to do what's right, accepting this guilty plea and accepting responsibility for what he did.

KING: Noting in that statement that he is cooperating with the Special Counsel. Hugely significant. Shimon, well, thank you for that.

I want to bring our Senior Legal Analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, into the conversation. Jeffrey, there are a lot of things we knew that Michael Flynn was being look at possibilities, not disclosing international lobbying and the like. What did you learn? What -- From everything we have seen and heard so far today, what is the most important?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, that on January 24th, a morning presumably, when he -- that morning presumably, he briefed the President of the United States on the State of the World because that's what a National Security advisers do.

Later that day, he went to the FBI and committed a felony. And he committed a felony by lying about some of the critical issues at the core of Mueller's -- Robert Mueller's investigation about what the nature of the relationship was between the Trump administration or the Trump campaign and Russia as well as about the Trump -- the Russian government's attitude towards Israel.

These are subjects that have been at the core of what Mueller has been looking at. It's been very central to what Congress is investigating. And we know now that Mueller lied. I'm sorry, we know now that Flynn lied.

The question is now, is the many unanswered questions that are now raised by it, who knew that these conversations between Russia and Flynn were going on? Who knew what the results of those conversations were and at whose direction was Flynn acting? I mean, all of those questions now become extremely important. And presumably, Flynn is going to be answering all of those because he's agreed to cooperate with the Mueller investigation.

So, I mean, this is a case that reaches directly into the heart of the Trump administration, into the Oval Office. Michael Flynn was the most important national security figure in the White House, short of the President and the Vice President.

[12:05:06] And the fact that he is now a convicted felon who was cooperating with an ongoing federal investigation is immensely important.

KING: Immensely important. Good way to sum it up. Jeffrey Toobin, thank you for joining us with your insights.

Let's bring the conversation in the room here with me to share their reporting and their insights. CNN Dana Bash and CNN Jim Sciutto, former Special Assistant to Robert Mueller, Michael Zeldin and Maggie Haberman of the New York Times. There's a lot to talk about. Let's take it slowly and methodically and go through it because of the importance. I want to start with this. You've heard as part of his statement, General Flynn says he's cooperating with the Special Counsel. As part of its statement to the judge, the Special Counsel says these conversations that Flynn had with the Russians he says, came at the direction of senior transition officials, unnamed in court in the day were reported back to senior transition officials around the President of the United States, the president-elect at that point. And we don't have the names to those.

Ty Cobb, the President's lawyer says this, Maggie, nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn. What the Special Counsel said in court calls that into pretty serious question.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes. I mean, look, that is a political statement, that statement from Ty Cobb. That is a statement aimed that making Donald Trump happy and essentially keeping, you know, the mummies of legal prosecution at bay. But at the end of the day, it has no bearing on what Flynn might actually be telling at the Special Counsel's Office, number one.

Number two, the rest of the statement was that Flynn was an Obama administration official. That is actually the most disingenuous and silly part of the statement.

HABERMAN: This is a person -- yes, he was an Obama administration official and then he was --

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He was fired.

HABERMAN: And then he was fired, and then he was somebody who the Obama administration warned Trump about. He was somebody who the President -- current President of the United States floated personally to a newspaper reporter as a possible running mate when he was doing the reality show, Potential VP's. This is, well, after he had been fired.

This is somebody who was chanting lock her up so long at the convention that I think the cameras had to eventually stop or they had to usher him off stage. And this is somebody who, Chris Christie and Jeff Sessions, when they were involved in the transition process before this President was elected, before Election Day had warned of having Flynn in a consequential position like National Security Adviser.

They had said that he should be at ODNI. Basically, that would be where he was when. Flynn considered that beneath him right after Christie was fired when Jared Kushner and other members of the Trump family essential de facto and took over the transition. They basically gave Flynn his pick of what he wanted and this is what he chose.

So Trump's routine as we have seen repeatedly when people get in trouble, Paul Manafort, you know, new name and on and on people. He said this to Steve Bannon, I barely know the guy. Like, yes, I barely know the guy's strategy is not going to work here. KING: Not going to work here. This is his right-hand man to a degree on many of these issues. Mike, so I want to bring in you here because you know how this works and you know Bob Mueller. We know that General Flynn was under investigation. We know you can make a case that he did not properly disclose, for example, some of his foreign lobbying. You could have charged him with that, if you wanted too. If you wanted one placeholder charge, you could have done that in security's cooperation.

What is the significance that Bob Mueller at a time when a lot of people say what are you up to? Is this worth the money? Is this worth the time? Is this worth the cloud over a President, charges with Russia ambassador and says in court reported back to the rest of the transition?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL SPECIAL ASSISTANT: The four lies that he picked tell you something very important, which is that this is an ongoing investigation that implicates a lot of people in the Trump inner circle. Because he could have, as you said, pick the SF-86, failure to disclose financial contacts and be done with this. And he picked four lies in one indictment. So, in one information.

He could have make four counts that has been in 20 years but he picked one, which means that there is substantial cooperation going on here. You just don't, you know if you will just giving --

KING: Just giving Mike, he's got a pretty easy deal here.

ZELDIN: Yes. You know, you don't take someone which is 20 years and make it five for nothing. So, it is important that he picked the U.N. and he picked sanctions. Because the June 9th meeting with Donald Trump Jr. is all about sanctions and that you got Kushner, Manafort, Don Trump Jr.

The U.N. is about Kushner and Israel and Egypt and the U.N. resolution. That was not vetoed. So, he is telling these people this is important stuff.

Also, I think what's important here is that these lies took place -- the conversations took place during the transition. The lie took place four days after. Mueller is not appointed until five months later, so the FBI has got its counterintelligence investigation going on. And I don't know that these guys are even thinking about what Mueller may be thinking because Mueller is not there. So they may be more inclined to a lie.

Remember, one of the lies here says Flynn said, I don't remember. That's a lie. Jeff Sessions said I don't remember, a hundred times in three days of testimony. So this portends a lot of bad news I think. No matter what Ty Cobb says, this portends a lot of bad news for a lot of people, for a lot of reasons.

BASH: And on that note, just talking to people in Trump world this morning about this, the thing that I hear most that they are most concerned about is really basic. [12:10:09] They are concerned that the now-President of the United States, the then-candidate specifically asked Michael Flynn to make contact with the Russians. That is possible. We don't know. Michael Flynn knows and he has going to have to tell the prosecution if that's true.

KING: Right. And so the question, who are those senior transition officials in Mar-a-Lago specifically said in court in Mar-a-Lago. That is where -- that's the President's winter White House we now call it his retreat in Florida.

I just want to go through some of this because to the point that if you turn in Michael Flynn, this is not some advanced guy on the campaign. This is the National Security Adviser of the United States, one of the most sensitive jobs in the government. A man who was (INAUDIBLE) to the President then candidate during much of the campaign.

December 22nd, General Flynn now admits he asked the Russian ambassador to postpone the United Nations vote. The Obama administration is in power. The incoming administration is not supposed to touch the letters of government until after the hands come off the bible.

December 29th, President Obama announced the sanctions. December 29th Flynn asked the Russian ambassador please don't have Vladimir Putin retaliate. President Trump is inaugurated. Flynn then lies to FBI investigators those days after taking his job.

The then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates comes running to the White House and said you guys have a problem here. Then President Trump fires Yates, not Flynn and -- Flynn only resigns after The Washington Post and other media out send report that Sally Yates is saying you got a blackmail problem in the White House.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Keep this in mind. What we heard inside that courtroom belies any administration argument that Michael Flynn was freelancing here. At a minimum, he kept Mar-a-Lago apprised of what he was discussing in these conversations. Beyond that he said that senior Trump transition officials told him to carry out to those conversations.

We don't know yet, if those senior officials included the President, but the White House cannot argue that this was Michael Flynn going off as a loose cannon here. At least, based on what he is telling them.

Two, the White House and the President's argument from the beginning on this has been one, this is a witch-hunt. And two, that it's, you know, copy boy, et cetera, low-level people. That is belied again by the facts of these last couple of weeks. This is his National Security Adviser.

His campaign chairman already, as we know, indicted. His deputy campaign chairman, one. Two, this is a federal crime lying. This is no small deal. Three, it is lying, as you said John, about material issues, about sanctions against Russia for interfering in the U.S. election, conversations with the Russian ambassador, about a U.N. resolution regarding Israel. Material issues, it's not just about golf games, right?

So what we heard in the courtroom today, what we see in these documents belie every administration argument so far about this investigation.

KING: And it shows an expanding investigation. The President keeps saying wrap this up as quickly as possible. We'll get it to this mindset later in the hour. But now it's about were you trying to pull the levers of the United States government before you assumed control of the United States government?

We also know they are investigating was the firing of the FBI Director James Comey, before Bob Mueller got here, an effort to obstruct an investigation. When the President asked James Comey to go easy on Michael Flynn, was he being nice to his friend?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.

KING: In saying please, the guy is shame just let him go. More, does he know what Flynn knows and which gets you to senior transition officials at Mar-a-Lago? Take me through, Mike, how does this work now? He is cooperating.

Just take us, what is the process. And if the National Security Adviser to the President of the United States, if you cut a deal with him that goes easy on him, you don't cut a deal with somebody that high up with chain and go easy on them, tell me if I'm wrong, unless you think you can go higher.

ZELDIN: That's right. So, the timeline of these sort of things is you're told you are a target. You get a lawyer. The lawyer calls the prosecutors and says could work out a deal. And the lawyer says what he got to offer.

The lawyer makes a proper presentation of what the testimony would be. The prosecutors think about it. They generally bring the individual in. They assess his credibility and then make a decision.

In this case, clearly, is that they assess that Flynn has a story to tell as he said he did, that it's credible and that a jury, if you will, would believe it. So I believe they have that evidence not necessarily in the grand jury yet, but possibly about what Flynn would say. And I think what Flynn has to be talking about is the senior White House officials, Manafort, Kushner, Corey Lewandowski, who has name I can never pronounce. And that those guys I think it is believed communicated with the President.

And that we will see the one point is did the President direct this or was this directed at one level below -- beneath the President, Don Jr., et cetera? But I don't think that the prosecutor believes that they didn't report back to the President. And so any allegation by the President that I didn't know it was going on here, he said it under oath that he think he's going to find himself in the same position that Flynn is which is a liar. HABERMAN: One argument that I heard from a White House official this morning was, this is inline with this Ty Cobb statement but it goes further which is well, you know, this person is speaking of background that Flynn is a freaking liar. You know, we know Flynn is a liar.

[12:15:03] So therefore, he is just going to lie. And I think you are going to hear more of that in the coming days. But I don't think you were going to hear from the President for as long as they can keep his hands tied behind his back in his Twitter feed away from him.

KING: Right. That's an interesting point, but it's -- they can call -- they can question Michael Flynn's truth telling, if you will. They can't question his proximity and access to the President which they tried to do that with people.

Again, we'll discussed all of this as we go through the hour. More in our breaking news just ahead. We're going to go in a quick break.

Before we go on Manu Raju trying to get comment from the Republican chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee about this, he was no successful, but not for lack of effort.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITEE: Thanks guys.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: But, Senator, this was a pretty significant charge --

BURR: Thanks for your interest.

RAJU: People want to know exactly --

BURR: I don't anything to say to you today. Appreciate it.

(OFF-MIC)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. Much more on the breaking news, the plea deal and the cooperation agreement between the former National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn and the Special Counsel investigating Russia election meddling in a moment. But there's other breaking news in Washington this hour too.

[12:20:04] The Senate now on the verge of passing what would be a historic overhaul of the United States tax code. Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona just moments ago said, he is a yes, which we believe makes him the 50th decisive vote in favor of this legislation.

Our Congressional Correspondent Phil Mattingly us up on Capitol Hill. Phil, does your math match Mitch McConnell's math, I guess is the question of the hour? PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Mitch McConnell walking on the Senate floor telling reports, quote, we have the votes. This is notable for two reasons. One, Senator McConnell never speaks in the hall way. So that was a big deal.

But second, making very clear that they believe they have whipped the votes you noted on Senator Jeff Flake. That was a big get. It looks like Senator Collins is also headed in that direction.

We are a long way from where we were last night, John, where this thing seemed to fall apart. In the issue last night was deficit. The issue was Senator Bob Corker.

Here's the calculation leaders made. They are going to cut Senator Bob Corker loose. They are not adding a trigger, a deficit trigger that would raise taxes if the growth projections don't match up. They are not going to have an automatic tax increase to try and address potential debt or deficit issues. They are going to move forward.

Senator Jeff flake was also paired up with Senator Bob Corker with those deficit concerns in his statement. Laying out why he is a yes. His other concerns whether it'd be related to expensing or something outside the tax bill, a commitment from Senate Republican leadership that they would address the DACA issue in a permanent manner in the weeks ahead. That's how he got to yes.

What I think is the most interesting element here is there were four people we were keeping an eye on going into this morning. Senator Collins, Senator Ron Johnson, Flake and Corker. Senate Ron Johnson, Senate leaders got him by boosting up the pass-through credit from 17.4 percent to 23 percent.

They got -- what I said about Senator Flake, they looked like they were on the track for Senator Collins, that would equals 51 if Senator Collins comes out to yes. This is a major victory should it come to pass for Republican leaders. They believe they can get it done today.

We are still waiting for the final details of the bill. The big detail is how do you pay for all these issues. A lot of them cost money. Right now, we know what they are probably going to do is bump up the repatriation rate from 5 percent and 10 percent, the 7 percent and 14 percent. That would be his money that the companies bring back to the United States would be tax at that rate.

That will raise about $110 billion and that's other money too. The bottom line, though, details that they decide, right now, Senate leaders say they have the votes to pass historic tax reform, John.

KING: Old school deal making. Not everything has changed in Donald Trump's Washington. Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill. Phil, we'll check back as the hour develops. We'll keep an eye on the Senate floor as well.

Up next, to the Russia investigation, the President calls it a hoax, reaches deep into his inner circle. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[12:27:02] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's Russia and Donald Trump. I have nothing to do with Russia.

This Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost in election. The entire thing has been a witch-hunt.

There is no collusion. You know why? Because I don't speak to Russians.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The President's scoring for the Russian meddling investigations is no secret. But his to label with all a witch-hunt and a Democratic excuse, took a giant hit today.

Just last hour, his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn entering a guilty please, admitting he lied to the FBI about conversations he had with the Russians, specifically Russian's ambassador. Flynn now, the first Trump administration official and the fourth person connected to the Trump campaign to be charged in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into 2016 election meddling.

Now, among the questions in that investigation, was there collusion with the Trump campaign and did Trump as President fire the former FBI Director James Comey in an effort to obstruct the investigation? And to kickoff December, well, here's the Drudge headline today. "Merry Christmas from Mueller. Flynn pleads guilty lying to the FBI."

Let's bring CNN's Dana Bash and Maggie Haberman with the New York Times. Also joining us, Mary Katharine Ham with The Federalist, and CNN White House Correspondent, Abby Phillip. We played the top, the sounds of the President's top because we know how much this gets under his skin.

Take us inside the White House today, Ms. Phillip. The President for all they are saying, this is Michael Flynn. Michael Flynn is a liar. He lied to us and he lied to the FBI. We are done with him. This is a very trusted campaign adviser, and one of the most sensitive jobs in United States government, who has agreed to cooperate with the Special Counsel and appears to be getting a pretty good deal to do it. They have to frighten to (ph).

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I think given that this is actually very different from the other two charges that we saw in this case, the White House is still remarkably characterizing this as something that does not touch upon the President and this administration. They are saying that Flynn is in a bubble and he was only in the administration for less than a month and the charges have nothing to do with anyone else but him. That's the White House line this morning, but it's not clear whether that's true based on the plea agreement that Flynn came to. He is indicating that he was in communication with other people within the White House.

Now, talking to White House aides this morning, they are still processing that and trying to figure out who that person is and what that could mean for them. But at the moment, their public reaction is essentially the same as with Manafort and as with Papadopoulos which is that the investigation is coming to a close where in December we're getting close to the end. That seems to be a little bit of wishful thinking.

BASH: Which is really silly.

PHILLIP: Yes.

BASH: Because on a says --

KING: But what do they supposed to say? I guess I would --

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: How about saying we're not going to comment, we're going to see how the investigation plays out. But that's just -- I don't think that's in their DNA.

Look, I think that there's, you know, we talked before about the President, but there are a lot of senior administration officials who were senior transition officials. In fact, most of the transition officials are now in very high levels of the White House.