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Mike Flynn Pleads Guilty; Flynn's Statement Of Offense; Flynn Pleads Guilty to Lying to FBI: Cooperating in Probe. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired December 1, 2017 - 13:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Jim Sciutto in today for Wolf Blitzer. Thank you very much for joining us on this momentous day in the news.

A bombshell here in Washington. A guilty plea from the former national security adviser to the president, admitting that he lied multiple times to the FBI. This just two days after he was sworn as President Trump's national security adviser.

But that is just the tip of the legal iceberg here. Flynn is also admitting that he is now working with the special counsel's office, cooperating. And, remember, that special counsel is looking into possible collusion between the Trump team and Russians during the 2016 presidential election.

Here is his statement and I'm quoting. "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. I accept full responsibility for all of my actions." End quote there.

Let us remember what this story really is about. The president's former national security advisor admitting to repeatedly lying about conversations with the ambassador of Russia. And that foreign power, Russia, interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

Michael Flynn, no small player in the campaign. He was a constant presence, in fact, during the campaign as well as a trusted adviser to President Trump throughout. And then, after President Trump was inaugurated as his national security adviser.

CNN White House Correspondent Jim Acosta and also checking on reaction, Shimon Prokupecz, our Prime and Justice Reporter. I want to start with you, Shimon. Walk our viewers into what did General Flynn admit to today and what do we know about he -- what he admitted to and what he got in exchange for that from prosecutors?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN PRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Right. So, what we know is that he basically admitted to lying to the FBI about conversations he had with the former Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak.

There has been -- this has been a -- part of an FBI investigation, the conversations. As you've said, the Russian interference and Sergey Kislyak played a role in all of this, meeting with various Trump officials.

Now, we know that back in January when Michael Flynn had these conversations -- when the FBI had these conversations with Michael Flynn, they interviewed him.

They specifically asked him questions about his conversation and one having to do with sanctions that the Obama administration was imposing on Russia, and a second conversation we learned had to do with a U.N. vote against Israeli settlements that was going to be had at the security council.

So, there were at least two conversations -- well, two topics of these conversations that the FBI questioned him about. He lied about the nature of those conversations.

We know some of those conversations he relayed information back to transition officials about it, according to the court documents that were released.

So, all of this, the FBI basically built a case and to -- and asked him and he came forward today and pleaded guilty. And, as you said, he is now cooperating.

So, his cooperation would just entail that he will continue to provide information to the government, to the special counsel's team and also to the FBI as they -- as they see fit.

And it's also clear that he's already provided substantial information to them. Flynn taking full responsibility for his actions today in court.

And then, moments after, releasing a statement. Let me read that to you. He says that I recognize that the actions I acknowledged in court today were wrong and through my faith in god I am working to set things right. My guilty plea and agreement to cooperate, he says, 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 that he accepts full responsibility for his actions. So, probably not the last that we hear about his cooperation because we do expect it to continue as the investigation continues -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Keep in mind, one count of lying, making false statements, but on four separate occasions. So, more than one lie cited in this guilty plea.

I want to go to Jim Acosta at the White House. Jim, the White House making a somewhat incredible argument now that Michael Flynn was an Obama administration official.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. That is in the statement coming from Ty Cobb, a White House lawyer, giving a statement on behalf of the White House in response to the Flynn news.

We should point out, I reported earlier this year that President Obama tried to warn President Trump to avoid Michael Flynn. That happened during the transition. It was shortly after the election, actually, when president-elect Trump, at the time, came to the White House and met with President Obama.

[13:05:10] It was in that meeting when President Obama warned President-elect Trump to stay away from Michael Flynn. He brought him on board as his national security advisor anyway.

Here is the statement from Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer. We'll put this on screen. This is basically how the White House is responding to it, at this point.

It says, 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, entered a guilty plea to a single count of making a false statement to the FBI.

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

The conclusion of this phase of the special counsel's work demonstrates, again, that the special counsel is moving with the delivery of speed and clears the way for a prompt and reasonable conclusion.

Interesting to note there, also in that statement, is that the White House has the expectation and I talked to a source close to the White House earlier this morning who is close to team Trump. And there seems to be this expectation, I think it's a false one, that these things -- that these matters in the special counsel's office are going to wrap up any time soon.

If you just look at what Michael Flynn is pleading guilty to, he -- and what is involved in these court documents, you have federal investigators saying that Trump transition officials -- Flynn is preparing to say that Trump transition officials directed him to make contacts with the Russians.

That would, obviously, require the special counsel's office saying that they are saying that the officials directed him to make contact with the Russians. That would require the office to reach out to officials to get to the bottom of that information.

We know that during the transition the last week of December, the incoming White House press secretary at that time, Sean Spicer, and Jason Miller, who was a -- supposed to be the incoming communications director for the White House but ended up not taking that post, were both asked about these contacts between Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador at that time.

At the time, during the transition, those two officials -- incoming officials for the Trump administration were trying to explain that Michael Flynn was just, sort of, giving these courtesy calls to the Russian ambassador. Whereas now we understand that that was far from the case.

According to federal investigators, Michael Flynn was talking to the Russian ambassador about these sanctions imposed by the Obama administration in response to election meddling and that Flynn was talking to the ambassador about this matter before he was even in office yet as the national security advisor.

So, lots of implications, when it comes to not only the officials who were potentially involved in all of this, Jim, but also the content of that conversation -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Jim Acosta at the White House. To be clear, when you look at the statement of offense, it belies the White House explanation here on many points because, in fact, it says that Flynn kept members of the transition team apprised of those conversations. The idea that that was news and that the White House and transition team didn't know about it, belied by the statement of offense.

I want to go now quickly to Adam Schiff. He's the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee which is doing its own investigation of the Trump team's interactions with the Russians during the campaign, and Russian interference in the campaign. Thanks very much for taking the time to join us.


SCIUTTO: First, I want to get your reaction to this remarkable moment of the president's national security adviser entering the federal courthouse here in Washington and pleading guilty to a federal crime.

SCHIFF: Well, and we can't lose our shock value as easy as it is -- as easy as it is over the last year. This is a national security adviser to the country. The chief adviser to the president, in terms of protecting our country. And, basically, he has admitted that he was a liar, when it came to telling federal authorities about his interactions with one of our adversaries, that being Russia.

Of course, this is part of a broader pattern in which the administration officials, as well as campaign officials, have dissembled or outright lied about their contacts with Russians.

But you're right, it's breathtaking. And, Jim, I think you're also right in listening for that White House statement where they say, well, these are the lies he told the White House. No, actually, if you read his statement, General Flynn, today, acknowledges he told senior transition officials about this. Those people all became part of that White House.

So, it's not going to be that easy for the White House to simply say, ah, nothing to see here.

SCIUTTO: And also to be clear, in the -- in the statement of offense, he says not only did he keep them informed but in at least one of those calls with foreign leaders during the transition, he was directed by someone in the campaign. The White House argument, in that statement and throughout has been, he was, in fact, freelancing here, right? He was acting alone. You're doing your own investigation here. Does that stand up in the facts as you know them?

SCHIFF: Of course not. But we've seen this pattern when Manafort first got in trouble. Well, he just had a small role in the campaign for a small period of time. Well, he was the campaign manager.

[13:10:00] When the Papadopoulos plea took place a month or two ago, well, he was just a foreign policy adviser. You know, --

SCIUTTO: Coffee boy.

SCHIFF: -- he's a liar.

Well, now, it's the national security adviser, one of the president's top advisors, one of the most invisible surrogates. Not someone they can easily write off as a tangential person who simply volunteered his time.

So, there's not, I think, belittling the significance here. And that group of senior transition officials, that Mueller is referring to in that statement of the offense that go unnamed, that's a very small list of people.

And --

SCIUTTO: Do you know who those senior tran -- one is described as a senior transition official. One in the state of offense is described as a very senior transition official. Do you know who those officials are?

SCHIFF: I don't know. It's a narrow category of people it could be.

SCIUTTO: Who's on that list?

SCHIFF: Well, certainly Mike Pence is on that list. Reince Priebus is in that list. At one --

SCIUTTO: Is the president on that list?

SCHIFF: The president is in that list as well. And it would explain -- if the president was among those senior officials who were in the know, if not directing these contacts, it would explain why he was so reluctant to fire Flynn. Why, in fact, at the time, the president wasn't upset that Flynn had lied, only upset the press had found out. That, of course, is consistent with a president who knew this all along.

SCIUTTO: Two questions about the core allegations involved here. Shortly after Flynn was interviewed by the FBI, I believe on the 24th of January of 2016. Two days later, remember Sally Yates, then the acting attorney general, warned the White House and said, he has lied and that makes him a security risk. And it was a couple weeks later when Trump asks James Comey, then FBI director, to end, in effect, the Flynn investigation.

In your view, is that obstruction of justice?

SCHIFF: Well, it certainly could be. If the president is instructing the FBI director, make this go away, that would very well be an act of obstruction.

You now have this week also a Republican senator saying he was trying to effectively shut down the Congressional investigations.

I asked the attorney general a question yesterday, when we had him before our committee, whether the president ever instructed him to take any action that he considered would hinder the Russia investigation and he declined to answer the question.

All of this ought to be of profound concern to us.

SCIUTTO: On the other issue here contained, again, in the statement of offense, Flynn lied about conversations with the Russian ambassador during the transition in December 2016 about conversations about U.S. sanctions on Russia. President Obama imposed new sanctions, as you remember, for Russian interference in the election.

Is it collusion? Is there something illegal about an incoming president who's not president yet, a president-elect Trump at that time, telling a foreign power that the sanctions imposed by the current president of the United States, well, this is something, hey, when there's a new sheriff in town, things will be different. Would that amount to illegal activity, in your view?

SCHIFF: Well, it could. You know, collusion, the criminal charge would be conspiracy. And the question then would be, what is the conspiracy? Conspiracy to do what?

If there were, as we saw, interactions between the campaign and the Russians, in which the Russians offered help, which we know they did. The camp then accepted help, which we know they did. The Russians then delivered help, which we know they did. And there were further discussions about how that help would be delivered, published through WikiLeaks, et cetera.

And as a part of that conspiracy -- when it became exposed, and the Obama administration sanctioned them, if, as a part of that continued conspiracy, members of that campaign now in office said, hey, Russians, don't do anything about this. We'll take care of you because we were doing this together.

Obviously, that could be part of a broad conspiracy. Now, I think we're still a long distance from making all those connections.

But certainly, in theory, this could be part of that picture. But even in the absence of that, we can't forget the fact that this followed a foreign country interfering in our election on Mr. Trump's behalf.

And what do we see Mr. Trump do immediately after that election? We see his national security designate instructed to go to the Russian state. Don't react to this. We're with you here. Don't react to this. And, essentially, we'll take care of things. That, in itself, is deeply troubling.

SCIUTTO: The president has said, at various times, both during the campaign and since his election, that this investigation is a witch hunt. There's nothing here. He's also said there were no contacts between his team and the campaign.

And, of course, in this statement of offense, we have multiple contacts which have now been documented as a -- as a federal crime.

In your view, has the president lied about what communications his team had with Russia?

SCHIFF: Well, abundantly and frequently and in about just every way.

[13:15:06] But most significant in denying that this happened saying it's a hoax, saying, well, I asked Putin. We don't really know did he do it, he says he didn't. We know exactly what the Russians did and the president knows.

So, yes, when he says for the country we don't know, that's a lie. When he says we had no contact with the Russians, that's a lie. When his son says I had no contacts with WikiLeaks that's a lie. When General Flynn said never discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador, that was a lie. And unfortunately, the list goes on and on.

SCIUTTO: Today, final question, as you look at the president's national security advisor here, what he has pled guilty to, the substance of those conversations, the people he had those conversations with, including in the Trump transition team, do you believe that what we see here today leads to the president, right up to the president himself?

SCHIFF: Well, I don't know. It all depends I guess on who those senior transition officials are. But if those senior transition officials have been interviewed by the FBI and if they made the same false statements that General Flynn did and they were part of that discussion that led to those interactions with Kislyak, then they may face the same exposure that General Flynn did and this may not be the last guilty plea we see.

SCIUTTO: Fascinating. A momentous day, no question.

Congressman Adam Schiff, thanks very much for taking the time.

SCHIFF: Thanks, Jim.

Still ahead, Robert Mueller's Russia probe is now reaching a former administration official. Up next, we're going to look at where the investigation goes from here.

And on Capitol Hill, Senate Republicans are trying to keep their eye on another issue entirely -- tax reform. After the break, we're going to look at where the votes stand.


[13:21:14] SCIUTTO: Welcome back and right to the breaking news.

Michael Flynn, President Trump's former national security adviser, has pled guilty to lying to the FBI multiple times and more importantly perhaps is now cooperating with the special counsel leading the Russia probe.

I want to bring in someone who has worked directly with special counsel Robert Mueller and knows very well how he runs his investigations. He is Michael Zeldin, former federal prosecutor and Robert Mueller's former special assistant at the Department of Justice.

Michael, Flynn now says that he's cooperating. It's there in lighting in the plea agreement with Mueller. What exactly does that cooperation entail at this point?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's going to be about the core matter that Mueller has a mandate to investigate, which is any links and coordination between the campaign and Russian officials. And so, what Flynn has testified to is that he had those links and coordination and he lied about them. And now he has said as well in the statement of agreement of facts here that he has had conversations with senior and very senior transition officials about this.

So, Mueller goes from here and says, well, then who are those senior officials and very senior official and what was the nature of those communications, and do they implicate my mandate? Meaning, do they involve links and coordination that violate criminal law?

And there are laws that are -- that could be violated. Leave aside lying, because if these guys were already interviewed and lied like Flynn did, they already may be in deep water. But there are some statutes here that are also at play. There is violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. There is violations of federal election campaign regulations. There's, theoretically, a violation of the Logan Act.

So, there are lots of things that Mueller can look at with respect to the people with whom Flynn had contact in order to determine whether or not there were links and coordination that are criminal.

SCIUTTO: Michael Zeldin, thanks very much.

And Michael makes a good point there is a lot of talk about how lying is contained in this statement of offense. But in fact, it also talks about violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, et cetera. We'll get more to that shortly.

Right now with me, journalist Carl Bernstein, who was part of "The Washington Post" team which won a Pulitzer Prize -- I'm sure you'll remember -- for its Watergate coverage. Former federal prosecutor Laura Coates as well, CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash, CNN political analyst David Gregory, and CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

Carl, if I could begin with you. You certainly have some experience on investigating presidents and illegal activity as relates to presidential administrations, tell us how significant the events today are in your view.

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: They're usually significant. They're not definitive yet. But we chose where Mueller is heading and that is toward some kind of a conspiracy, it's very significant that the plea by General Flynn addresses the question of sanctions. That is the holy grail for the Russians, was to have sanctions removed that the United States had instituted and that stands at the center of what the Russians wanted the United States to do.

And it's becoming clearer that the incoming Trump team was working to get sanctions removed. That is where this case would seem to be going, whether or not that goes to orders from the president of the United States himself remains to be seen. But it's -- the key words in here are very significant, very senior officials of the transition.

[13:25:02] Mr. Kushner is obviously one who you would think of, the president's son-in-law, in these situations. There's a whole national security team of the campaign, that men moved on to run the transition national security operations, and those are names who are all familiar to us, and they're under serious investigations. The significance of this though, you know, you mentioned Watergate is, that we are seeing indications perhaps for the first time here that the system is working, the legal system is working.

There is plenty of room for the president of the United States not to be found to have done anything wrong here if the facts go that way. And at the same time, there are very ominous signals here because the president has lied so often about the matters under discussion here.

SCIUTTO: And, Carl --

BERNSTEIN: So, we've got a long way to go and we're only seeing part of it, but this is a very bad day for those in the White House because many of the president's associates are obviously implicated through what General Flynn intends to testify.

SCIUTTO: Carl, you make a good point. The system is working, that is despite what we know were multiple attempts by the president to interfere with the investigation, firing James Comey among them.

Gloria, the White House in their statement today, but that reflects what has been a long-term response to this investigation by the White House is, here's Flynn, he was lying to us, too, he was freelancing in effect. But the fact is, you look at the statement of offense --


SCIUTTO: -- he makes it clear that he was keeping the Trump transition team apprised of these conversations, multiple calls back and forth on the same day, but also that he was receiving direction from -- BORGER: Right.

SCIUTTO: -- the Trump transition team.

BORGER: This does not make Flynn look like an independent operator at all, which is why you can understand the special counsel was seeking his cooperation and got it, because what he is -- originally, he lied to them they caught him in the lie and then they make it very clear in the statement you're referring to that, in fact, during the last weekend in December, before they took office over, you know, but Christmas, New Year's kind of weekend, that there were conversations back and forth about, you know, I'm going to tell the Russians this, what should I do, what would you like me to do, conversations about -- later on about the U.N. vote.

And so, you know, you don't see Flynn as kind of a rogue operator here. He wasn't a rogue operator. He was being directed, we do not know by whom, but this talks about a very senior member of the presidential transition team and also another member of the presidential transition team.

So, we're kind of putting in our thinking caps trying to figure out -- well, who could that be?

SCIUTTO: Well, Adam Schiff was just talking in our air and he described, that was quite a small group, right, because it included, as Adam Schiff mentioned, Reince Priebus, Vice President Pence --

BORGER: Right.

SCIUTTO: -- and when you say very senior, there of course is the possibility of the president was somehow involved in these conversations.

Dana, I know you've been speaking to people on the Republican --


BERNSTEIN: -- so involved and also on the transition team was the national security adviser with Sessions. I just want to get that in there, that the attorney general of the United States, Sessions, is among the senior transition officials dealing with national security.

SCIUTTO: It's a good point and Sessions was on the Hill this week and Adam Schiff himself asked him if he was directed at all by the president, and Sessions refused to answer, citing presidential conversations.

But, Dana, I know you've been speaking to people, Republicans, former members I imagine of Trump's administration, what is their level of concern?


BORGER: Yes, I'm fine.


BASH: Very high. Their concern is very high. From the president, about the president on down, and they're concerned people who I was talking to, the concern was high even before the very detailed agreement that you just laid out there, Gloria, about a very senior transition official. And that is a very curious way to describe this person and clearly with it -- I believe with an intent of you know, kind of narrowing who the person might be.

But, look, even going into this and as we started getting the sort of smoke signals that this plea was happening this morning, the concern I heard from Trump sources, it was that Michael Flynn didn't just pick up the phone and call the Russian ambassador and said, hey, let's you know do something with these sanctions or don't worry we're going to be fine. And that maybe the president himself said, just call them up and tell them it's going to be OK.

Maybe it was somebody further down the food chain, but it's not unheard of that it was someone like the president.

SCIUTTO: And let's be clear, it was a short food chain in that transition team.

BASH: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: I want to -- David, I want to go to you and I want to play for you Adam Schiff's answer when I asked him about the president's statements, often misleading statements, about this investigation in the past.