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Flynn Cooperating in Russia Probe, Pleads Guilty to Lying; Flynn Identifies Kushner as Being Behind Russia Calls; Senate Working Toward Final Vote On GOP Tax Bill; Democrats Demanding GOP Release Final Text Of Tax Bill. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired December 1, 2017 - 17:00   ET


[17:00:11] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Guilt and cooperation. Fired national security adviser Michael Flynn enters a plea bargain in the Russia investigation. He admits he lied to the FBI about conversations with the Russian ambassador, and now he's cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. What information will he reveal?

Kushner's calls. CNN has learned that Jared Kushner directed Flynn to contact the Russian ambassador, and that intelligence intercepts picked up Kushner's conversations with foreign diplomats. Is President Trump's son-in-law the investigation's next target?

Start of the deals. The special counsel now has secured two plea deals in his Russia probe, and he's moving closer to President Trump's inner circle. Will even more senior officials inside the White House face charges and will they cooperate?

And verge of a vote. Senate Republicans say they have the votes to pass their tax plan after sweetening the pot for GOP holdouts during marathon negotiations. A vote is expected tonight after the final bill is written and debated. What last-minute changes are being made?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Brianna Keilar. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KEILAR: We're following multiple breaking stories this hour, including a guilty plea in the Russia investigation by fired national security adviser, retired General Michael Flynn. He's actually now cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller after admitting that he lied to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador.

According to an FBI statement, Flynn communicated with the ambassador at the request of a senior Trump transition official. Now sources familiar with the matter are telling CNN that Jared Kushner was that senior transition team member who directed Flynn to contact the Russian ambassador about a U.N. vote on Israeli settlements.

CNN has also learned that intelligence intercepts picked up Kushner's conversations with foreign diplomats, talking about efforts to stop that vote.

And we're also following breaking news on Capitol Hill where Senate Republican leaders say they now have the votes they need to pass their tax overhaul bill. Key holdouts announced today they will support the measure, and we are standing by for that final vote.

We're covering all of that and more this hour with our guests, including Senator Richard Blumenthal of the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees. Our correspondents and specialists are also standing by for us.

And I want to begin with Michael Flynn's plea bargain in the special counsel's Russia probe. CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto is working this story for us.

So, Jim, you really can't overstate how critical a development this is.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question. A momentous day, certainly, for the Trump administration. The president's former national security adviser pleading guilty to a federal crime here in court in Washington.

And while the White House today, and for some time, has tried to portray Flynn as something of a freelancer here, in fact there's a lot of evidence in this plea agreement that not only was Flynn keeping the Trump transition informed of the conversations he was having and lying about, but that he was being directed in some of these conversations by very senior members of the transition team. And perhaps most important of all, we learned today that Flynn is cooperating in the special counsel's investigation.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): Tonight, the ongoing Russia investigation has reached President Trump's innermost circle. Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn says that he is cooperating with the special counsel's probe into possible cooperation between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

Flynn pled guilty to repeatedly lying to the FBI, including making false statements about his December 2016 conversations with Russia's then-ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak.

According to the statement of offense, Flynn lied when he told the FBI he did not discuss sanctions with Kislyak on the same day that President Obama expelled Russian diplomats from the U.S. and boosted sanctions on Moscow in retaliation for Russia's meddling in the presidential election.

Flynn also sought Russia's help during the transition to block a U.N. Security Council vote that the Obama administration was abstaining on. The White House said late Friday morning, quote, "Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn."

However, court documents make clear that Flynn was not acting alone. According to prosecutors, Flynn communicated with senior members of the president's transition team about the conversations and, in at least one instance, was directed by transition officials to reach out to Russia.

Tonight, CNN has learned that the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is the very senior member of the presidential transition team identified in today's court documents. Kushner directed Michael Flynn to contact the Russian ambassador and other countries regarding the U.N. Security Council vote on Israeli settlements. This according to sources familiar with the matter.

MICHAEL MOORE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: This tells me that Bob Mueller's team has gotten some information from Michael Flynn that they believe to be critical in their investigation going forward. Now whether that's an investigation against Trump, whether that is an investigation on Jared Kushner, or little Don or Manafort or whoever it is, then it tells me that they believe that he's got credible information that is essential.

SCIUTTO: Flynn is the closest person to the president to plead guilty in the ongoing Russia probe. Former campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos also pled guilty to lying about his contacts with Russian officials.

Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and his deputy, Rick Gates, pled not guilty after being indicted last month on charges related to their lobbying work for the Ukraine government.

Flynn's guilty plea belies President Trump's repeated denials of any contacts or involvement between his campaign or Russia.

(on camera): In your view, has the president lied about what communications his team had with Russia?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, abundantly and frequently and in about just about every way, but most significant, in denying that this happened, saying it's a hoax.

GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN (RET.), FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Donald J. Trump to be the next president of the United States.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Flynn was one of Donald Trump's closest and most ardent public supporters during the campaign and after the election was selected by the president to be national security advisor.

However, after just 25 days, he resigned that position, when it was revealed that he had misled Vice President Pence about the Kislyak conversations. The acting attorney general at the time, Sally Yates, then delivered this stunning warning to the White House.

SALLY YATES, FORMER DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: We believed that Mr. Flynn was compromised with respect to the Russians.

SCIUTTO: Today, Flynn acknowledged that his actions were wrong but denied that he was blackmailed by the Russians, saying in a statement, quote, "It has been extraordinarily painful to endure these many months of false accusations of treason and other outrageous acts. Such false accusations are contrary to everything I have ever done and stood for.

After the court proceeding, Flynn went immediately to the home of his son, Michael Flynn Jr.


SCIUTTO: And his son, Michael Flynn Jr., very central to Michael Flynn Sr.'s thinking. We reported last month that Flynn Sr. was becoming increasingly concerned about the legal jeopardy his son may face. His son not charged today, not mentioned in there.

The question is, in addition to providing cooperation elsewhere, was that cooperation provided in part to protect his son from legal proceedings, Brianna? And we know that the special counsel does not give ground easily. If he's going to compromise, if he's going to agree to a plea agreement, reduce sentences, et cetera, he would need to have something significant in return.

KEILAR: Very good point. Jim Sciutto, thank you so much for that report.

Let's dig deeper now with CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez. And Evan, you have some very interesting new information.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, right. We have new information coming in now, Brianna, that K.T. McFarland, who worked as Michael Flynn's deputy in the National Security Council, former FOX News contributor, has now gone in to provide information to the special counsel's office.

She's now done an interview, provided information. And she is the senior official -- senior transition official who is named in these documents today that we saw. There's a conversation on December 29. Before Michael Flynn makes his now infamous phone call with Sergey Kislyak, he talks to K.T. McFarland is the name of the person that we have now identified to get a sense of what he should talk to the Russians about, what information he should share.

And then he calls back and gives a report on what he learned in his conversation with Kislyak. Again, at the time, the concern appeared to be, at least from the Trump transition, was that by the -- fact that the Obama administration was putting these sanctions, it would essentially tie the hands of the incoming administration. At least that's what they were concerned about, and that was what -- the conversation went on.

KEILAR: It's so key that so many people in the transition may have been looped in, in what these discussions that were going on. It's such an important point.

PEREZ: Right. Right, exactly.

KEILAR: And when you think of Michael Flynn being the national security adviser or incoming, he was privy to so many of these top conversations, these very important, very secret conversations that would have gone on. The fact that he is now pleading guilty to this, what does that tell you?

PEREZ: Well, one of the things that's interesting about the documents that we have now seen, is that now we know what the special counsel believes to be at least a version of the truth that they are willing to buy. This is the one that they've given in court. This is the one that the judge has now accepted.

We're hearing from people close to the White House a different version, certainly the version that perhaps Jared Kushner testified to, and that raises some very interesting questions for Jared Kushner. If he -- according to what we're hearing, Jared Kushner did not -- is not admitting that he ordered this phone call, this December 22 phone call on the Israeli settlements. At least that's the version of events that we're getting from people close to the White House.

[17:10:24] So what that tells us is that, when he testified, when he went into -- for his interview in early November, Jared Kushner told a different version of events than the one we're seeing that is now laid out in court that appears to be the version that the special counsel has accepted from Michael Flynn.

KEILAR: And so he could legally, Jared Kushner, be in jeopardy, perhaps.

PEREZ: It seems to suggest that there could be some jeopardy there. At least if -- unless he comes in and clears it up. But certainly, that seems to raise some very interesting questions for Kushner.

KEILAR: Evan Perez, great reporting all day. Thank you so much, sir.

And I want to talk more about all of this with Senator Richard Blumenthal. He is a Democrat. He's on the Judiciary and the Armed Services Committees.

Sir, thanks so much for being with us.


KEILAR: And you know, you -- your background is as a former attorney general. So I'll ask you, really, a similar question I asked Evan. When you see that this is Michael Flynn in this key role that he played in the transition, in the campaign, in the administration, and he has pleaded guilty, what does that say to you?

BLUMENTHAL: What it says to me, Brianna, is that this acknowledgement of criminal guilt is a shattering moment for the Trump presidency, because Michael Flynn is one of the inner circle, one of the top advisers, not just on any old topic, but national security. And he is a potential witness against Jared Kushner, against other top officials if they fail to be truthful with compelling knowledge and deep credibility because of his position.

And now we have a moment similar to Watergate where the question's going to be what did they know and when did they know it? Not just the president but Jared Kushner and Michael Pence, the vice president, because they were part of the transition team. And every other top official in the transition team may be a part of this Russian collusion that's involved here.

KEILAR: So you say this is a shattering moment for the Trump presidency. So as you see this, Senator, this is the moment where all of this cracks open? Is this what you see as the beginning of the end for President Trump? Why do you characterize it like that?

BLUMENTHAL: I would call it not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning. Because Michael Flynn has knowledge that may implicate other top advisers. Two are referenced in the statement of information. And the point here is it's not only relevant to Russian collusion but also to obstruction of justice.

Remember, Jim Comey was fired by the president of the United States, Donald Trump, because he wanted to stop the investigation of Michael Flynn. That very investigation that today has culminated in this guilty plea. And so Michael Flynn is going to have knowledge about the president's potential obstruction of justice.

Now is the time for the Judiciary Committee to move forward with legislation that will protect the special counsel, because now there's more urgency than ever that the Trump administration, particularly the president of the United States, may renew his threats and intimidation, may, in fact, attempt to politically interfere and even fire the special counsel.

BLITZER: So what tells you that Michael Flynn knows and is willing to provide that information? When you look at him pleading guilty, there's one charge. We're looking at up to five years, although the judge cautioned he could say more or less there on a potential prison sentence.

What is it that tells you Michael Flynn has, as Robert Mueller and his team would see it, the goods on the administration when it pertains to Russia and potential collusion?

BLUMENTHAL: Two key questions, Brianna. Let me take the second first.

As to why he would continue to cooperate, there's a lot more here than just a single count of lying to the FBI, even though it does carry five years in prison as a potential penalty.

Compare that single count to all of the possible criminal charges and convictions that could result in even greater exposure. His dealings with the Turkish government involving the prime minister there and a potential kidnapping scheme. The potential for tax evasion for not only the Logan Act but also his failure to register. Each of these violations carries very significant penalties.

And at any point that he shades the truth or fails to be forthcoming or, in any way, compromises what is an agreement of cooperation, he will be subject to potential greater charges. And, by the way, since you mentioned it in your report, his son possibly, as well.

[17:15:13] Now as to the first point, what assurance is there that he knows? Well, he's having a conversation with the Russian ambassador, several of them in December about matters of extraordinary importance to national security. That kind of familiarity, the ease and this content and substance of those conversations indicates a pattern and practice of dealing in the past and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. And his knowledge, his position as national security adviser clearly indicates that he has a lot of knowledge with a lot of credibility.

KEILAR: CNN now reporting, Senator, that Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, was the, quote, "very senior member of the Trump transition team" who directed Flynn to contact foreign governments, including Russia, on that U.N. resolution. What do you see this meaning for Jared Kushner?

BLUMENTHAL: It is increasingly apparent that Jared Kushner knows more than he's telling the committees of Congress; that he has to be subpoenaed to testify in public under oath; that he has already failed to provide the documents that he has been requested; and a subpoena is more necessary than ever now for him by the Judiciary Committee, as well as Donald Trump Jr. and anyone else with knowledge that can be relevant to both the obstruction of justice by the president and his team and also the collusion with the Russians to interfere in the campaign.

So short answer is he has a lot of answers to give about what he knew and when he knew it about this illegality.

KEILAR: President Obama, when he had an audience with President-elect Trump shortly after the election, actually wanted President-elect Trump against bringing Michael Flynn into the White House.

Then you had Sally Yates from the Justice Department warning the Trump White House that Flynn lied about his communications with the Russian ambassador and that he was actually vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

But then the Trump administration really did nothing until all of this was publicly reported. What does it tell you, that it took that becoming public?

BLUMENTHAL: One of the mysteries here, Brianna, is how the president of the United States could tolerate for as long as he did someone who potentially was subject to blackmail by the Russian government as his chief national security adviser. That is reckless and irresponsible in the extreme.

For the commander in chief to put our troops, our nation in jeopardy in that way is really -- call it improper, call it illegal. Those terms may eventually be shown true, but certainly, it was reckless and irresponsible.

KEILAR: All right, Senator, I want you to stay put there for me on Capitol Hill. We have new information coming in about the identity of the -- one of the senior transition officials that Michael Flynn spoke with about his communications with the Russian ambassador.

We also are wondering if perhaps a warning from one of your colleagues, a Republican senator, not to pardon Michael Flynn is something the president may be considering. We're going to talk about that as soon as we're back.


[17:23:02] KEILAR: Breaking news this hour, fired White House national security adviser Michael Flynn is now cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference. Flynn entered a plea bargain, admitting that he lied to the FBI about his conversation with the Russian ambassador.

And we're back now with Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal. He's a member of the Judiciary Committee. And I wonder what you think about Michael Flynn having such a long career in intelligence. You would presume, Senator, that he would know that these calls to foreign diplomats, that they could be foreign intelligence targets, that that would just be standard practice and that they might be picked up by surveillance.

So why do you think that he maybe made these calls, was so open in his discussions and then went on to lie to the FBI when you would presume he might know that they had proof of exactly what was in these calls?

BLUMENTHAL: Like the president's apparent neglect in failing to fire Michael Flynn, the Flynn conversations themselves at this sensitive time, betraying American foreign policy, are really a mystery.

But as to why he lied about those contacts, clearly, he understood they were wrong. They were illegal and improper; and he wanted to cover them up. He wanted to hide them.

And he also possibly wanted to spare others in the transition team, possibly Jared Kushner or others like the vice president, Michael Pence himself, who was part of the transition team the embarrassment and potential legal exposure of knowing about these calls.

The calls were clearly a violation of the Logan Act. And they betrayed the American interests and national security that Michael Flynn himself worked so hard over those many years to advance.

So there are mysteries here, mistakes, but some clarity as to what the motive must have been in lying to the FBI.

[17:25:13] KEILAR: You've repeatedly mentioned the vice president. What -- why? What do you think Mike Pence's role in all of this may have been and what this means, this news today about Michael Flynn means for the vice president?

BLUMENTHAL: This means that Michael Flynn has profound meaning, not only for the vice president, part of the transition team close to the president and to others on that transition team like Kushner and McFarland. But it has meaning also to the attorney general of the United States, who was the head of the national security team for the president.

George Papadopoulos, in his guilty plea, seemed to potentially implicate the attorney general and others on that team. But the picture that comes across of the president and the vice president at opposite ends of the table with George Papadopoulos, and the image, as well, of Michael Flynn at the president's side in so many photographs, those pictures are worth 1,000 words.

KEILAR: Do you think that the president would possibly consider pardoning Michael Flynn?

BLUMENTHAL: Excellent question. I have no intimate insight into the president's state of mind, but I would caution the president of the United States that pardoning Michael Flynn would be a tremendous disservice to our country, to the rule of law and to his own presidency. It would spark a firestorm in the United States Congress.

One reason that I think it would be illegal is that it would raise a conflict of interest and potentially violate his constitutional duty, but also could be deemed an obstruction of justice.

And eventually, Michael Flynn's going to have to tell his story to state prosecutors who are pursuing related charges, possibly money laundering involving his relationship with the Turkish government, and he's going to have to tell his story to congressional committees.

And so pardoning Michael Flynn is no solution for the president of the United States and is a tremendous disrespect for the rule of law. I hope he won't do it.

KEILAR: But this is a president who, before firing the FBI director, which caused a huge uproar, asked him to not -- to stop looking at Michael Flynn. He chastised his attorney general for recusing himself from this investigation. The list really goes on and on. Utilizing a Republican congressman, Devon Nunes, to try to change this into a conversation about the Obama administration unmasking transition officials.

Is there anything that would lead you to believe that pardoning Michael Flynn would not happen, or does that to you seem like a much bigger step than those other things that I just mentioned?

BLUMENTHAL: Pardoning Michael Flynn would directly contradict and undermine the special counsel's investigation. Pardoning Michael Flynn or any other key witness like him who has pleaded guilty already and is awaiting sentencing would not only be a disservice to the rule of law but potentially would provoke a charge of obstruction of justice against the president.

And it would be on a par with firing the special counsel. That's the reason why I think legislation is necessary now to protect the special counsel from political interference and from any firing. I've introduced that legislation with colleagues on both sides of the aisle. The Judiciary Committee should move forward with it immediately, precisely because of the threat that you have just raised. And also, the Judiciary Committee should move forward with its own

investigation into obstruction of justice, which unfortunately has been too long delayed in terms of issuing subpoenas for documents and testimony. The American people deserve an open hearing, testimony under oath with Kushner, Donald Trump Jr. and others with knowledge that will enlighten them.

KEILAR: Senator Blumenthal, thank you so much for your time. We do appreciate it.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: And coming up, we're going to have more reaction to this breaking news. How will Michael Flynn's guilty plea affect President Trump, Jared Kushner and Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation?

We're also following breaking news on Capitol Hill, where Republicans now say their tax cut bill has enough support to pass. When is this going to happen, though?


[17:34:25] KEILAR: We have breaking news. Major developments in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. Fired White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador, and he's now cooperating with Mueller. And CNN has learned that Flynn discussed his conversations with the Russian ambassador with senior Trump transition team members, Jared Kushner as well as K.T. McFarland, the Deputy to Michael Flynn at the time. I want to bring in CNN's Senior White House Correspondent Jim Acosta. So, Jim, officials there are publicly downplaying all of this, but no doubt privately they're very worried.

[17:35:03] JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Brianna. The White House is trying to put some distance between President Trump and Michael Flynn's guilty plea, but it's clear today that the Russia investigation is creeping closer to the president. A senior White House official insisted there is no anxiety here about what Michael Flynn might tell investigators, but we're also told there are worries inside the White House as to where this investigation might go next.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Comment on Michael Flynn being indicted, sir? Can you comment on Michael Flynn being indicted?

ACOSTA: President Trump was silent when asked about his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn pleading guilty to lying to federal investigators about the retired general's contacts with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. But inside the White House, the president's lawyers were once again busy shielding Mr. Trump from the investigation. In a statement, White House Attorney, Ty Cobb, described Flynn as a

former National Security Adviser at the White House for 25 days during the Trump administration and a former Obama administration official. The statement adds Flynn's false statements mirror the false statements to White House officials which resulted in his resignation in February of this year. Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We discussed a lot of different situations. Some wonderful and some difficulties.

ACOSTA: But the White House statement ignores the fact that Obama warned the incoming president to stay away from Flynn in the oval office two days after the election. Nine days before he was sworn into office, Mr. Trump refused CNN's attempts to ask whether his campaign had contacts with the Russians before the election.

Mr. President-elect, can you say categorically --

TRUMP: Go ahead. He's asking a question, don't be rude.

ACOSTA: Mr. President-elect, can you give us a reason why you're attacking us?

TRUMP: Don't be rude. You are fake news.


The next month, the president defended Flynn's contacts with the Russians.

TRUMP: Mike was doing his job. He was calling countries and his counterparts. So, it certainly would have been OK with me if he did it. I would have directed him to do it if I thought he wasn't doing it. I didn't direct him but I would have directed him because that's his job.

ACOSTA: The president went on to suggest there were no contacts during the campaign.

TRUMP: Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.


ACOSTA: Flynn, who repeatedly led chants of "lock her up" about Hillary Clinton --

FLYNN: We, we do not need a reckless president who believes she is above the law. Lock her up. That's right.

ACOSTA: Spoke with Ambassador Kislyak during the transition, but transition officials never mentioned that Flynn spoke to the ambassador about new Obama administration sanctions against Russia. SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The call centered

around the logistics of setting up a call with the president of Russia and the president-elect after he was sworn in and they exchanged logistical information on how to initiate and schedule that call. That was it. Plain and simple.

ACOSTA: Former FBI Director James Comey says the president pressed him to drop the case.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I understood him to be saying that what he wanted me to do was drop any investigation connected to Flynn's account of his conversations with the Russians.

ACOSTA: The president has also repeatedly tried to knock down new revelations in the Russia probe. Tweeting in March, "Michael Flynn should ask for immunity and that this is a witch-hunt (excuse for big election loss), by media and Dems of historic proportion." When former Campaign Manager Paul Manafort was indicted along with the guilty plea from former National Security Official George Papadopoulos, the president tweeted, "The fake news is working overtime as Paul Manafort's lawyer said there was no collusion and events mentioned took place long before he came to the campaign. Few people knew the young low-level volunteer name George who has already proven to be a liar. Check the Dems." The Democrats say, that won't work with Flynn, who was a Senior White House Official.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: They can't distance themselves from President Trump's national security adviser, who has acknowledged a crime.


ACOSTA: Now, senior White House officials said the Obama administration "authorized Flynn's conversation with Kislyak", but a former Obama administration national security official just told me that that claim from the Trump White House is "laughable." As for the president, we are told he feels "sorry for Michael Flynn tonight and that he is thinking about Flynn and his family." Brianna?

KEILAR: All right. Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you, sir. I want to get more on all of this with our political and legal specialists. First to you, Jeffrey Toobin. When you saw this plea deal, what was the thing that really struck you about it?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, that the national security adviser to the president was lying to the FBI while he was the national security adviser. The other point is that in the plea documents, in the paperwork that Michael Flynn acknowledged, the prosecutor said he also lied in his lobbying registration statement, but the one they made him plead guilty to was the lie to the FBI about Russia.

And I think that shows that Mueller's team understands that the heart of this case is all about Russia; it's not about lobbying. And the fact that they made him plead guilty and articulate that he lied about his dealings with the Russian ambassador is, I think, indicative that the heart of this case remains the Trump campaign's connections to Russia and what really happened there.

[17:40:27] KEILAR: Gloria Borger, you've been talking to your sources all day, what do they think about what Mueller would have gotten from Michael Flynn?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know the thing is they could have charged Michael Flynn with a lot more. And I don't know if Jeffrey agrees with this or not, but what I've been told is, look, they could have charged him with a lot more and they probably didn't because they've gotten a lot from him at this point. Now, maybe they're hanging something larger over his head, but it would seem to me that Jeffrey's point is absolutely right, that they've gotten a lot from him already.

And that every charge you see here very carefully written out was with the knowledge and/or the direction of somebody in the administration. You know, senior transition officials, very senior transition officials, Mar-a-Lago, and so what you see is the sort of tentacles of this really starting to kind of expand. And the question is -- I have and I'm not a lawyer, but, you know, the question I have is whether Mueller is going to start talking at some point or try to prove at some point some kind of conspiracy.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, one thing we know about the special counsel, he doesn't give out hall passes for nothing, right? And as Gloria said, there are a lot of things that we have known that they were investigating that are not included in this. And the fact that they are not there and that his son who was a target apparently of investigation is not there, all of that says that they are not giving that out of their Christmas spirit.

BORGER: And he's not -- right. And he's not looking for small things. You know, this is not -- Bob Mueller --

KEILAR: He wants the goods.


BORGER: -- not looking for small potatoes here.

KEILAR: He wants the goods. OK, so, Rebecca, I think it's so informative to look back and see what President Trump and what other administration officials said as we started to understand, oh, my goodness, Michael Flynn had been talking to Russian officials and it was about sanctions. So, when these conversations were reported publicly back in February, we heard from President Trump, he denied knowing about them. Let's listen.


TRUMP: I don't know about it. I haven't seen it. What report is that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Washington Post is reporting that he talked to the Ambassador of Russia before you were inaugurated about sanctions -- TRUMP: I haven't seen it. I'll look at that.


KEILAR: Is that believable at this point that he just had no idea when -- as we understand it now -- conversations were had between Flynn and even Jared Kushner? Is it believable knowing what we know about the administration that the president somehow just had no idea what was going on about any of this?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: It's getting more and more difficult for that to pass the smell test as we learn more about how this was structured and how Flynn was going about his work. What the White House would like us to believe or in the past would have liked us to believe before these revelations were that Flynn was essentially a rogue operator, that he was acting in a vacuum and not touching or interacting with anyone else in the transition or the future administration.

But now we know that that just wasn't true. He was working with Jared Kushner, and he was working with K.T. McFarland. Obviously, while the new transition also where Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, Mike Spence was running the transition. And, of course, there's the question of the president himself. So, it's very difficult for the White House to say at this point that everyone was insulated from Mike Flynn -- this just isn't the case.

BORGER: And you know --

TOOBIN: Brianna, can I just add --


TOOBIN: -- one point to that? Remember James Comey's testimony before the intelligence committee and his conversation with the president on February 14th. For the president throws everybody out of the oval office and has a one-on-one meeting with the FBI director and he says to Comey, let Flynn go. Let him go. He's a good guy. Let him go. Why? Why was he so interested in stopping the investigation that ended today with the guilty plea on precisely what James Comey was investigating him for? What was Donald Trump so worried about in terms of what Flynn knew that he wanted the investigation stopped?

BORGER: You know, and the White House has always made the case that we -- this was a transition full of people who are inexperienced in the ways of government. They didn't know what, you know, what to do or how to behave. And that Donald Trump when he tapped Comey on the shoulder and said stay behind and chatted with him didn't know any better. I think it's very difficult to make that case. And the other case they might have to make --

BROWNSTEIN: Richard Burr is making that case.

BORGER: Right. And the other case they may try to make is the case that was made about Ronald Reagan and Iran contract, which was that he was disengaged and all of this went on around him without his knowledge at Mar-a-Lago -- this is unbelievable.

[17:45:00] BROWNSTEIN: The other big message today -- the other big message today, real quick, is it remind -- we know there's a lot we don't know. I mean, Mueller has shown the capacity in a modern media environment to consistently surprise people, to surprise the media. There's a lot that he knows that we don't know and I suspect there is also a lot that he knows that the targets don't know. And I think everyone has to be kind of -- everyone who he is talking to has to be concerned about what they say versus what they -- what the other side may already have evidence about.

KEILAR: But, it's such an important point you make, Rebecca, when you say that we were led to believe that Flynn was just doing this on his own. And then, look, when it turned out that he lied about it to Mike Pence. Oh, he was a goner. That was the thing that he's a goner now because he lied about this and he really was just acting on his own.

When you read this charging document on or about December 29, 2016, Flynn called a senior official of the transition -- we now know that to be his Deputy K.T. McFarland -- who was with other senior members of the presidential transition team at the Mar-a-Lago resort. That sense, who was with other senior members? I mean, when you look at that and you've been talking to your sources, is that Mueller and his team putting all of these other folks on notice?

BERG: Oh, absolutely. Mueller wants at this stage to strike fear into the White House officials that he is going to go back and interview because he wants the full story from them right now. He wants -- he wants them to think he has --

BROWNSTEIN: He knows things they don't know.

BORGER: And by the way, he's already interviewed a lot of them.


BORGER: And he had to wrap it up before he did what he did today because don't forget, he met with Jared Kushner in early November before this news came down today, obviously about Flynn. So, he was wrapping this up for a while.

BROWNSTEIN: Just trying to think of --

KEILAR: Jeff, a final thought to you.

TOOBIN: This is a big deal. I mean, you know --


KEILAR: Good final thought.

TOOBIN: We don't know where it's going. But it's going a lot deeper and a lot longer than it looked like this morning.

KEILAR: And it has more to do, right, than just discussions with the Russian ambassador at the time when as the soon to be NSA Flynn should not have been talking to the Russian ambassador, right? I mean, is that -- that's the expectation. It has much more to do beyond that, right, Jeff?

TOOBIN: Well, I mean, the whole relationship between the Trump campaign and the Trump transition and the Trump presidency and Russia is the heart of this whole case.


TOOBIN: And that's what we keep learning.

KEILAR: All right. Jeff, thank you so much. Thank you so much to all of you, Ron, Gloria, and Rebecca. I really appreciate it. We're going to have a lot more on this breaking news. Aftershocks from Michael Flynn's guilty plea, but another major story is it breaking on Capitol Hill: Republicans say they have enough support to pass their tax bill, but when?


[17:52:23] KEILAR: We have much more ahead on today's breaking news. The many repercussions of President Trump's former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn pleading guilty to lying to the FBI and also agreeing to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe.

There is another major story, though, today, it is breaking as we speak on Capitol Hill where Republicans now say that their tax reform bill has enough support to pass. I want to go now to CNN's Manu Raju live for us on the Hill. So, how did they do this? And when are we going to see this vote, Manu?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's been a lot of wheeling and dealing behind the scenes by the Republican leadership and the Trump administration to win over some Republican holdouts and cut deals with people like Susan Collins of Maine, changing how state and local property taxes could be deducted under the legislation. Also, giving some commitments to passing a bipartisan health care bill in order to offset any premium increases that may occur from repeal in the individual mandate.

In addition, they change how small businesses would be treated because of concerns from Senator Ron Johnson and to win over Jeff Flake, the Arizona Senator, they gave some assurances that Mike Pence and the administration would help work to pass a permanent solution to deal with those DREAMERS that have come into the country illegally at a very young age.

Now, they didn't win over everybody. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee was the one Republican who said he would vote "no". That's not going to be enough to scuttle the bill. The bill also, Brianna, has not been released yet. And one -- several Democrats are very concerned that they have not seen the final bill language even as we're looking at a vote later tonight. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, one of those Democrats raising some concerns. Take a listen.


SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: Perhaps it will be passed today and perhaps it will go to the president but there may be some other steps. We don't know. But I know that they are moving quickly because they don't know -- they know the public doesn't like this. I mean, this bill, two weeks ago, this bill was changing night by night when they -- after the committee, they'd go into the majority leader's office. Now it's changing hour by hour. Nobody knows what's in. They should be ashamed of themselves that they are willing to pass a bill this big with nobody reading it, with nobody really knowing what's in it.


RAJU: Now, Republicans say the broad parameters have been known for a very long time. But still, a lot those details we have not seen, it's only a matter of time before we see this bill, and the final vote could be later tonight, Brianna.

KEILAR: I do remember Republicans saying read the bill to Democrats on Obamacare. And now, the shoe is on the other foot here. All right. Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thank you.

[17:54:55] We're going to have more breaking news ahead. Fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn pleads guilty as the Russia investigation moves closer to President Trump's inner circle.


[18:00:00] KEILAR: Happening now, breaking news: guilt and cooperation. Fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn enters a plea bargain in the Russia investigation. He admits, he lied to the FBI about conversations with the Russian ambassador, and now he's cooperating --