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Flynn Pleads Guilty To Lying To FBI, Cooperating Probe; NYT: Trump Pressed Top GOP Senators To End Russia Probe. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired December 1, 2017 - 12:30   ET

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


[12:30:02] DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: -- 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.

And the text I'm getting from people who were in and around that, the other person besides, of course, President of the United States that they're worried about is Jared Kushner. Because he was running point on foreign policy during the transition, so it doesn't -- it's not a big stretch to think that he was at least one of the people that Michael Flynn says -- is now saying to investigators that he was talking to about his discussions with the Russians.

Never mind the whole different subject here which is discussions that he may or may not have had with these rallies about our U.N. security -- very controversial U.N. Security Council resolution that happened during the transition. And if he did that, it could be illegal under what's known as the Logan Act which is private citizens can't conduct foreign policy.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes. That seems to be what they are looking at hugely. I do think that -- I think that generates as the key point that I've heard from a lot of White House officials this morning which is Jared Kushner, and into respect, he worked very closely with Flynn on a number of issues.

And he was really the one who allowed Flynn, as I said earlier, to be in this national security advisor position in the first place where it was essentially this is what Flynn wanted and it was, OK, here you go.

Beyond that, in terms of the transition officials, if you actually look at who was around at Mar-a-Lago during that period, you can figure it out. And most of them are not in the administration anymore. Jared Kushner and his wife and maybe one or two other people would really be it. But it actually is pretty easy to search or whittle it down.

The main questions remains what the President knew and whether any of these gets to him.

JOHN KING, INSIDE POLITICS HOST: And Senator Dianne Feinstein raising that question. "It's critical that we determine whether Flynn spoke with the Russians on his own initiative and who knew and approved of his actions. This is just one more proof point that these investigations must be allowed to continue without interference." You get into this questions just ended up just called Logan Act and most people have never heard of it. But essentially private citizens, even transition officials are not supposed to meddle in the business of the United States government until they are in the United States government. Where does this take us?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, SENIOR WRITER, THE FEDERALIST: Well I think we're in wait and see modus we've been a long time. But the -- this is materially different it kills to me than the Papadopoulos thing. Flynn was very high ranking. He's clearly close to the President. He relates he sort of wrapped up both in the firing of Comey and the possibility of obstruction of justice charge and Russian interference.

He's been, in the past, done some shady dealings with the Turkish government while he was in the transition. So none of this looks good and the fact that he's going to cooperate, we will find out much more about this one. The question remains what does he know? What was he directed to do? What did the President know? And the thing that he did, how problematic were they actually because they can be shady without crossing that line.

KING: Right. And I just want to show our viewers. You to keep hearing from the President, you know, I don't talk to Russians. We had no contact with Russians. This blankets and I was of any contact, and then Jeff Sessions concedes he had some meetings. Jared Kushner concedes he had some meetings. Michael Flynn, we're learning again, more meetings.

Twelve people, 12 Trump associates had contacts with Russians during the campaign or transition. There were 19 face to face interactions with Russians or Kremlin-linked fingers. Fifty-one communications, meetings, phone calls, e-mails, and more that we know of in the public sphere.

So when you hear anyone in the Trump orbit, I don't care what your politics are walking at home say that we're no contacts. There were contacts. There were contacts, there were contacts. Now the question is where do we go from here?

This Flynn plea deal on a day reading your reporting last night about how the President with your colleagues over the summer started reaching out to the key players, including Chairman Richard Burr of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Senator Roy Blunt, a member of that committee, a senior member of the Republican leadership in the Senate. Hey, isn't it a time for you to shut these investigations down?

Now, that can be an aspirational thing again. We can't read minds or it can be I'm the President of United States. I'm the leader of the Republican Party, do my bidding.

HABERMAN: Their defense in the White House on this stuff is always -- well he says the stuff publicly. That's no different. And that's not really an excuse. It is true that he says the stuff publicly and it is certainly true that we don't know exactly what he was trying to convey and therefore whether there is a law that could have had a line cross or it's just a, you know, a norm.

But it is -- in any other administration if you had a story like this about a sitting president calling members Obama, Clinton -- go down the list of the previous presidents -- calling the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee in-charge of an investigation that touches on that president saying time to wrap it up, there would be an enormous outcry. There would be calls for removals. There would be early some kind of a censure.

And it says something about the degree to which we are sort of numb to Trump doing things like this that people are not reacting more. It also says, I mean, to the fact that another news -- another larger story and Michael Flynn blew it up a little bit this morning. What it all means remains to be seen, but we know that this summer the President was particularly consumed with Russia.

[12:35:02] And we also know that he has over many months, you know, essentially almost anyone he meets including literally strangers at Bedminster, he's been introduced to. He will start talking about how Russia has nothing to with him and this is all made up. And it's unusual.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And I think that this is actually related very much to this Flynn conversation because one of the big problems with Flynn was the question of what did President Trump say to James Comey about whether he wanted Comey to end this investigation. And so, what Maggie has laid out is a pattern of behavior in which the President is indicating to people who are in- charge of these investigations that he wants them to end it which calls in the question the idea at the very beginning that the White House claims that Trump did know such thing to Comey.

Well, there's a lot of evidence that he did that to three members of the Senate who are investigating him. So --

BASH: And with Mueller's team or back then with Comey, it's a question of obstruction of justice --

PHILLIP: Yes.

BASH: -- which is no small thing.

HABERMAN: That's right.

BASH: It can't necessarily make that argument or make that leak when you're talking about to frontiers of government. It's definitely unusual and inappropriate. But when you have an investigation, a Kremlin investigation going on, it's a whole different bottom line.

KING: A whole different thing. And as we take -- sneak in a quick break, I just -- you mentioned the former FBI director who's now private citizen has become a self-described philosopher source on Twitter tweeting today. "But justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an every-flowing stream." That's James Comey's take on Michael Flynn having a plea deal today and cooperating with the special council investigation that only began because the President fired James Comey.

Up next, Michael Flynn, they wanted (ph) to call him the copy boy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[12:41:12] MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We do not need a reckless president who believes she is above the law. If I, a guy who knows this business, if I did a tenth, a tenth of what she did, I would be in jail today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That's Michael Flynn 16 months ago, a Republican convention speech that is both a great irony and a great importance today. A constant campaign site to Candidate Trump. A critical transition player for President-elect Trump, the national security advisor to President Trump, one of the most critical, most sensitive jobs in the United States government.

When members of his team get in trouble, we've talked a little bit about this earlier, the President as if you go two lines. That guy wasn't all that important. I hardly knew him. He wasn't around very long. That dog won't hunt when it comes to Michael Flynn and today's plea agreement with the Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The pictures of Flynn and Trump side by side, just too many to count and there's this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are being vetted, we are told, as a vice presidential candidate.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to thank General Flynn for being a great guy, great man.

I think it's very, very unfair what's happened to General Flynn the way he was treated. He's a -- in my opinion a very good person. I believe that it would be very unfair to hear from somebody who we don't even know and immediately run out and fire a general.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You go back through these words, they have all new meaning. Now that a man who was often as close to the President and the candidate as we are sitting around this table, they cannot dismiss him as nobody. They cannot dismiss him as somebody who wasn't that involved which makes this so significant.

Back to the conversation in court today, the prosecutor said he spoke to the Russians during the transition which is wrong, illegal, to try to the move the leverage of the United States government or move the leverage of official business when you're not in power yet, reported back to the senior transition officials. That is why this a white knuckle day at the Trump White House. HABERMAN: Yes. Because it doesn't get clearer than that. I mean, it is really remarkable going back and let's do that convention speech.

Between that, there was a tweet that I think that President Trump had when he was Candidate Trump about how lying to the FBI is a terrible crime and people really ought to do time for that. And then you've seen things like the interview that you just played with the President where he was really doing some kind of signaling to Flynn of, you know, I'm on your side. You know, be nice, et cetera. At least that is how a number of White House aides interpreted it because the President believes that he can sell people on most things.

Right after Flynn was fired, I don't remember if it was the day or the day after, but Trump administration aides were on the phone with Flynn. I mean, there was an effort to try to keep him happy and not feeling as if he had been thrown under the bus. And that raises its own questions too about why that would be given a number of people who we have seen fired from this White House with the bus, you know, just freely rolling over them.

KING: Right. And then the time when the President keeps wishing aloud publicly in twitter and speeches else whether he wants the administration -- he wants the investigations, excuse me, to contract and end.

HABERMAN: Yes.

KING: This tells us now, again, the Logan Act, look it up if you've never heard of it before, most Americans probably haven't. What they're talking about Flynn doing here, trying to work the United Nation Security Council, trying to get the Russian government to not impose sanctions on the United States in retaliation for something President Obama did during the transition.

Now, that clearly is the focus of this investigation. Laid out in court documents today, and then listen here. This is the former FBI Director James Comey says the President of the United States after meeting at the White House, there were several officials there asked him, Jim, stay with me, come with me alone into the office, and says could you please think about going easy on my friend, Mike Flynn?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[12:45:02] JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I took it as a direction. It is the President of the United States with me alone saying I hope this. I took it as, this is what he wants me to do. I didn't obey that but that's the way I took it.

SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), IDAHO: You may have taken it as a direction, but that's not what he said.

COMEY: Correct. That's right.

RISCH: He said I hope.

COMEY: Those are the exact words, correct. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We are 11 months -- 10 months, excuse me, into the Trump administration. We now have with court documents today and I understand they're looking at the Logan Act violations by at least by the former National Security Adviser to the President of United States, who, in the court filing says he says he reported back to other senior officials who did not stop this. Who apparently did not stop this, who did not say, halt. And the Comey question, obstruction.

BASH: Correct. And I was talking to a former prosecutor who's been involved in plea deals like this many times sort of couple things. One, not only do we have James Comey in open testimony under, saying that the President asked him to lay off Flynn. But now the question is how much was Flynn involved in those conversations and that's going to be one of the first questions probably if it already hasn't been asked of Flynn by the special counsel's office.

And if there's -- if there was more of a conversation about it, more intentional then that would presumably give more credence to obstruction of justice. But, note, something else that this person said to me, there's so much that we don't know that we don't know. And there's so much that Robert Mueller's office doesn't even know to ask. And that is one of the big dangers -- one of benefits of the special counsel's office, one of the dangers for the White House of this plea agreement.

Because as part of not going to jail or at least limited jail time, we don't know what's going to happen. He, Michael Flynn, is going to be required to give everything that he possibly can on all of the different avenues they're looking at. Whether it is collusion with the Russians or whether it is anything financial. Who knows, but those are the kinds of things that likely are raising alarm bells at the White House. And if they're not, they should.

PHILLIP: Right. And I think Republicans are really concerned that this Mueller investigation isn't just a witch hunt. That the hunt is for President Trump and now this investigation is going toward the President. That's what people are really concerned about.

So despite the kind of, you know, rosy picture that's being painted by the White House attorneys, there is a real concern among conservatives that this investigation has already gone off the rail, it is already out of control. And that the, you know, there are probably very few options left to Trump and one of them could be to try to interfere with Mueller which is something that already you're hearing on the Hill.

Lindsey Graham saying publicly, Mr. President, don't try to pardon Flynn. Don't try to do anything here. It's a real warning that needs to be said right now because people are concerned that there's no way to stop Mueller at this point.

HAM: Well, again, we'll find out later exactly what Mueller was talking about. Not every single discussion with a foreign entity or person is illegal on its base. There are kind of routine and transitions.

But the thing that I've always thought about this White House is even if there's no there there at the collusion part of this, I remain unconvinced that they were sly enough to cover up a giant criminal global collusion with the Russians, because they are reckless, arrogant, and undisciplined. And this is what has taken Flynn down, that he was reckless and undisciplined and dishonest.

And that I think is going to be the pattern over and over again because they are going to trip themselves up even if they're not being nefarious. They're going to mess up over and over again and that's going to get them deeper into this.

HABERMAN: The problem is that in illegal defense as you know, lack of knowledge of the law is not a defense.

KING: Right.

HABERMAN: And so you are going to see people and I think we've -- I don't think it raise a really important point. One of the things that we have heard from the Trump officials repeatedly is we were too dumb to collude. We didn't know what as going on. We barely won with this, you know, scrappy campaign and we know we weren't aware of this. That's not going to cut it with proceedings (ph).

KING: And it's not going to cut. And in Michael Flynn's case, you make it even worse for yourself when you even lie, get caught lying to the FBI. So the President's National Security Adviser now in a plea deal with the special counsel? What comes next, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:53:48] KING: You know, the quick final thought from our guest about today's dramatic news. Michael Flynn, former National Security Adviser to President Trump pleading guilty to lying to the FBI and saying that he is now cooperating with the special counsel investigation.

You talked about this a bit, Maggie, on the top of the show. This is the priceless one from the President's lawyer Ty Cobb. "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." It's just laughable. I'm not going to keep reading it. That they're trying to just brush this guy off as nobody. What else, what strikes us here as we move on from this?

HABERMAN: I mean, I think that statement actually tells you a lot of what you need to know both about how the White House has dealt with this entire investigation and how they made deal with it going forward.

There is always a cognitive dissonance with this White House. There are people on this White House who work incredibly harder. Some really devoted public servants. At the same time this is a President who tells lies, falsehoods, you know, half truth, distortions with -- to a degree and a frequency that we have not really seen before from a president. Every president tells falsehoods, not like quite this.

And so, they are as you are seeing things getting closer toward the President. You are seeing an increasing cognitive level, a cognitive dissonance around how they are describing this. And it's going to be important for people to remember how much of this is just patently not true --

KING: Right.

HABERMAN: And this not some, you know, left side, right side's objective, which is not true.

[12:55:04] PHILLIP: And the President's ignorance of politics and of the law as Maggie pointed out is not going to be a justification if there was some wrong-doing that happened. It's just really important that that is not an excuse when it comes to the law.

KING: And on Capitol Hill, moving forward on the tax cut plan today and that other parallel universe called government.

HAM: Yes. And it's one the strange things about Trump and it was true on the campaign trail as well as all the sound and fury of Trump sort of allowed some normal things to happen. Like Ron Johnson being elected -- elect kind of their -- probably be elected. And so that's the environment we're in right now.

But two things about this. One, obviously, his testimony will be very interesting. And then I think the way Trump reacts to this, because it was somebody who was loyal to him and very close to him and it will be talked about a lot and those are two things that he reacts to pretty strongly.

KING: People waiting on the President's reaction will be the next big --

HAM: Possibly at 3:00 p.m. today at the White House Christmas party.

KING: We'll see if that happens.

BASH: Watch your twitter feeds.

KING: Watch your twitter feeds, exactly.

Thanks for joining us in INSIDE POLITICS. I'll see you Sunday morning then back here on Monday. Jim Sciutto, with some of our special coverage after a quick break. Have a good day.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Jim Sciutto in today for Wolf Blitzer. Thank you so much for joining us on this --