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Michael Flynn Pleads Guilty to Lying to FBI; McConnell on Tax Plan: "We Have the Votes"; Sen. Mark Warner Talks Flynn Guilty Plea, Russia Investigation. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired December 1, 2017 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Maybe it was somebody down the food chain. But it's not unheard of that it was someone like the president --


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Let's be clear, it was a short food chain.

BASH: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: In that transition team.

David, I want to go to you.

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. He's what Adam Schiff had to say.


SCIUTTO: The president has said at various times, both during the campaign and since his election, that this is a witch hunt and there was nothing here. He also said there were no contacts between his team and the campaign. And in the statement of offense, we have multiple contacts, which have now been documented as a federal crime. 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 just about every way. Most significant, in denying this and saying it's a hoax, saying, well, I asked Putin, we don't really know, did he do it, he said he didn't. We know what the Russians did. And the president knows. So, yes. When he said, we don't know, that's a lie. When he said, 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, I never discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador, that was a lie. Unfortunately, the list goes on and on.


SCIUTTO: This is not the first time the president has been accused of lying. And it's not the first time where the facts indicate that the president is lying.

Let me ask you, do these lies matter for this administration?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they matter in an important way because we're getting closer to answering the question why, why the lies by Flynn, the president and others. Why was there such determination to cozy up to the Russians during the campaign, the transition and afterwards? Why is there a disinclination to do anything about the fact that the Russians tried to influence the election, didn't ultimately sway the result, but manipulated the electoral system. Why don't we have an administration that wants to get to the bottom of it? And now we're getting closer to finding out those answers. That you had in the president, choosing someone like Flynn, he was warned about him. This is a guy that -- by the way, let's not forget the richness of this moment. I didn't hear anyone shouting, "lock him up" today when he walked into the district courthouse, like he was willing to do and join in at the rally against Hillary Clinton during the campaign. And that's not the case today. But this was someone who was the righthand man to the president. It's gets us closer to answering the questions.


SCIUTTO: Let me go to Laura, if I can.

Laura, we have new video of Michael Flynn Sr arriving at the house of his son, Michael Flynn Jr, holding Michael Flynn Sr's grandson there as it happens. I've been told in recent weeks that Michael Flynn Sr, extremely concerned about the legal jeopardy that his son faced in this and that was a motivator in a drive to cooperate.

You're a former federal prosecutor. Even in Flynn's statement today, he said, I did this for my country, but I did this for my family. How influential can that -- because Michael Flynn Jr had legal exposure on all the issues, non-report of foreign income, non-report of acting as a foreign agent. That can be a powerful motivator, can it not?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You are seeing a photograph of a family moment. I see bargaining power and bargaining chips and fodder for plea and an incentive it to do all of those things. Of all the questions we have unanswered, why did he do it, what do we not know, and who is the senior transition official? Those are the things that perhaps motivated Mueller and his team to have this plea. The only reason you invest in a plea and hand over the power to come out to say I'm going to allow you to have some impact is on your own future is because you have something I don't otherwise have that I can't otherwise get. The answer is, what did Michael Flynn have that nobody else could give Robert Mueller's team, and what does Michael Flynn know, what was he willing to give over, and all those things he probably answered in a proper before he did a guilty plea today?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLTICAL ANALYST: Why did the president of the United States go to James Comey and say, would you go easy, go easy on Flynn?


BORGER: Now if, in fact, Flynn lied because he didn't want to tell the whole truth about who was directing him, the old Watergate question that Carl Bernstein knows very well, what did the president know, and when did he know it?


BASH: Sure. The thing about the plea agreement is it goes into what happened vis a vis the phone calls he made during the transition. Because he is now cooperating with the prosecutors, he is expected to open the floodgates about the other things he knows. Maybe even, and especially things he knows that the special counsel's office doesn't know to ask. That is required of him in any agreement like this.


[13:35:09] BASH: -- or anything else.


COATES: -- done it. I mean, before he signed the plea, he gave that information over. Mueller is not a fool.


COATES: They already know what they want to know. We're going to find those different.


SCIUTTO: You have to be an open book when you give - Carl Bernstein, we've had a number of moments during this year of this Russia investigation, from the Comey firing -- from the reporting about the dossier to the Comey firing to Manafort and Gates. Now you have this. Newsy events. How momentous is this particular event?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Very. It's part and almost a culmination of in terms of the key witness of a methodical process that the special prosecutor has been following. There is one person around Donald Trump and around the campaign and around the transition who knows as much or more and dealt with the president as much or more than anyone except Jared Kushner, and that is Michael Flynn, about dealings with the Russians. The question, partly, is whether, as the White House will have, Flynn was operating on his own in any nefarious activities with the Russians, which seems quite doubtful given what we see in the information that was presented today at the courthouse.

There is one other thing here. Flynn, curiously, says in his statement that he has been accused of treason and these are false accusations. That says to me that he is not going to very openly say, "I colluded with the Russians to help undermine an election." His participation here would seem, if that statement is approved by the prosecutors, would seem to preclude him saying that, but rather he is going to talk about what may really be a conspiracy, nonetheless, in terms of conducting foreign policy before Trump became the president of the United States.

(CROSSTALK) BERNSTEIN: Also, all of this goes to the obstruction question. You can't separate what happened today from Trump's continual lying, his firing of Comey and the possibility of obstruction. And there's also the possibility, and we have to say this, all the time, that is might me that many, as in Iran-Contra with Reagan, that many of those closest to the president of the U.S. are going to be found guilty or charged or indicated and the president of the U.S. himself might not be indicted.


GREGORY: There's an important caveat.

SCIUTTO: You make a good point. And David makes a good point.

We have to be clear about where we are as opposed to where we could go. Right now --


SCIUTTO: -- crossing the line.

But, David, go ahead.

GREGORY: The important caveat here is you have in Flynn and Manafort two people who are in trouble with the law, maybe part of something larger or it may be more isolated. They key question for the special counsel is, is there evidence the campaign colluded with the Russians to affect the outcome of the election. We don't know the answer.

SCIUTTO: We are not there yet.

GREGORY: We know they have not been truthful about contacts. And we have questions about why they were so cozy with them and why they wouldn't take -

SCIUTTO: And why they would lie about it.

GREGORY: But let's be clear, too, the amateurishness of a lawyer, an experienced lawyer in Ty Cobb saying something is ridiculous, as he was a Clinton administration --


GREGORY: -- I mean, an Obama administration official, is amateurish and surprising.

SCIUTTO: And it doesn't stand up to the facts.

BORGER: But being amateurish is actually the administration's defense in a lot of this is, which is when you talk to people who are close to Jared, talk to people about what went on in Mar-a-Lago, the answer is that, oh, nothing was -- they didn't -- there are lots of people who didn't know that they were having conversations that they shouldn't have. However, Flynn knew. Flynn had been a member of the intelligence community. Flynn knew that what he was doing he should not have been doing. And the question is, who was instigating all of this.

And to your point, why.

[13:39:42] SCIUTTO: Under whose direction, no question.

Folks, we have to leave it there.

We have a long day. We will be staying with the story throughout the day.

Much more when we come back after the break.


SCIUTTO: Welcome back. Another top stop story we're following, we're now ion the brink of a big vote in the Senate as Republicans try to pass what would be landmark legislation of the Trump administration. You are looking at live pictures from the Senate floor. Last night's trillion-dollar deficit roadblock seems to have been just temporary as republican leaders now expect success.

CNN congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, is up on Capitol Hill.

Phil, we're hearing the Republicans have the votes? Is that what you're hearing?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, exactly right, explicitly. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walked on to the floor after a closed-door Republican meeting this morning, said plainly, "We have the votes." Mitch McConnell, one, rarely speaks to reporters when he's walking onto the floor and, two, he rarely talks about the whip counts before he has them locked in.

Here's what happened over the course of the last 15 or 16 hours. Republican leaders decided when it came to the deficit issue, the issue that broiled everything last night, the issue that set Senator Bob Corker off, that they were willing to cut Senator Bob Corker lose. They were willing to make a deal with Susan Collins and make a deal with Ron Johnson and make a deal with Jeff Flake. It looks like, and it's clear, they have more than the 50 votes or at least the 50 they need to pass it. The real question is, when those deals come to fruition, what is actually written into the bill. I'm told right now staff is working on the technical side, still writing the bill.

Jim, you know this place very well. This is the behind-the-scenes horse trading that occurs in major legislation as they try to find the votes. That's what's happened over the course of the last 12 hours. Republican Senators not only feel confident, but they feel good about where their bill is. It's likely late today they will pass the Senate bill -- Jim?

SCIUTTO: Phil Mattingly, thanks so much, up there on the Hill.

Now to discuss it, we have Republican Senator John Hoeven joining us live from Capitol Hill as well. A harrowing nearly 24 hours for the Republican Party there. What

changed to get the last key votes over the hill?

SEN. JOHN HOEVEN, (R), NORTH DAKOTA: A number of things, but this has been a work in progress and we have unlimited amendments and you will continue to see amendments. And we hope to finish the bill. And we believe we have the votes.

Some of the changes included increasing tax relief for small businesses, farmers, ranchers, small businesses. We increased the pass-through deduction at 23 percent. That's good for small businesses. That was one that I particularly pushed for and think is very, very positive.

In regard to some of the concerns that people had regarding the deficit, I think we have more than covered it with very conservative estimates. We'll have more revenue than we're projecting. That will help with debt reduction.

But one of the things we --


SCIUTTO: How is this going to help?


HOEVEN: -- repatriate --


[13:45:12] SCIUTTO: No analysis said this plan will help with debt reduction. Every analysis says it will add perhaps a trillion to the deficit. So how does it help with debt reduction?

HOEVEN: Right, Jim. What I was going to say is we did change the rate to the House rates on repatriated dollars, to answer your first question. But the way it helps with debt and deficit, Joint Tax is only projecting 1.9 percent growth. With tax relief and regulatory relief, we will go well beyond that, which will not only cover the $1.5 trillion that the bill scores on a static basis, but will generate well more revenue than that. We only have to grow it about 2.1 to 2.3 percent to more than cover the cost and actually generate additional revenue that can go to reducing the debt and deficit.

SCIUTTO: Let me switch now to the news on the former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. You've heard the White House comments here that portray him -- they even say he was an Obama administration official. In fact, he was a national security advisor to this president. How significant is this for the Trump administration?

HOEVEN: You know, I haven't seen the reports today, Jim --


SCIUTTO: Senator, if I could ask you to


SCIUTTO: Hold there just one moment. I will come back to you.

Mark Warner is speaking now on the Flynn developments.

SEN. MARK WARNER, (D), VIRGINIA: This is one more example of the extent of ties between senior officials involved in the Trump efforts and the Russians. We have seen the Trump campaign try to dismiss Mr. Papadopoulos when he pled guilty. We've seen them try to distance themselves from the former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and ongoing campaign aide, Rick Gates. They can't distance them from President Trump's national security adviser, who has acknowledged a crime. And we will be anxious to see -- and I've seen some the reports -- what his story was in terms of his contacts with Russians. We see this pattern one after another. And it's, again, why this investigation needs to continue and why we owe the American public the full explanation. But the administration's effort to continually dismiss all of these figures, I will be anxious to hear what they say when their national security advisor pleads guilty in terms of lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do we have any knowledge of who --


WARNER: I think we have got more work to do and we will do -- to get all of the facts. We have a number of major figures, like Donald Trump Jr. And I want to bring back Jared Kushner in light of the supposed comments that General Flynn may have been making. We have other individuals like Michael Colin (ph) and others that need to come back. We have more facts to gather. There seems to be this -- we have two people pleading guilty. We have a campaign manager and his deputy still under indictment. How many more figures have to be brought to justice because of their ties with Russia before we end up connecting the dots.



WARNER: Listen, I believe that we need to give everybody the benefit of the doubt until we get all the facts. I'm going to be anxious to see, since it was obvious General Flynn was in a great deal of legal jeopardy, and it's curious he pled guilty to only one charge. My hope is that General Flynn will tell everything he knows and tell he why he was having these contacts with Russians and who directed these contacts. I think it goes well beyond the fact that he just lied to the FBI.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Do you have knowledge of who these presidential transition officials were who did direct him to have these conversations with the Russians?

WARNER: Again, I'm anxious to wait for General Flynn to come clean. And I hope that Special Prosecutor Mueller will get that information out. The American public deserves to know.

RAJU: Do you have confidence in Richard Burr in carrying through this investigation in light of the president pressuring to end the Russian probe.

WARNER: I think the chairman made very clear that he felt he needed to keep his distance from the White House. And we are continuing to work. We're getting all the witnesses that we need to see. There's a number, like Mr. Kushner and others, that we want to invite back. This investigation is going to continue in its bipartisan fashion and get the job done.


WARNER: The truth is this is a story that -- you can't make it up. It's still remarkable to me that as we go, senior intelligence officials appoint -- (AUDIO PROBLEM -- acknowledging the massive Russian intervention. We have seen social media companies that first resisted, but now acknowledge massive Russian intervention. Frankly, virtually every one of my Republican colleagues acknowledges Russian intervention. The one individual that still seems to deny that this is not a major issue is Donald Trump. And I just kind of wonder why. So, again, we'll see where this story leads.

RAJU: Will you talk to Vice President Pence while he was head of this transition while these conservations were occurring?

WARNER: I don't -- we don't -- as many times you ask me -- we don't share who we'd like to talk to and when we would like to talk to folks. Again, I think I have a great deal of confidence in Special Prosecutor Mueller. I'm anxious to hear General Flynn's full explanation of his contacts with the Russians. Clearly, he was willing to lie about those contacts and lie to the FBI. And I'm anxious to hear from him for an explanation of who all directed him to have the contacts.


WARNER: Again, I'm not going to share --


WARNER: I'm not going to share. Our investigation is ongoing. And I think what we owe the American people are all the facts. And we still have more folks to talk to. And we want to get this job done, but we want to be complete. And, again, one more that we have seen some, and obviously including the president, who've said, hey, nothing here, let's try to shut this down. I don't think there is anybody that's following this story now, in light of another admission of guilt coming from a senior Trump official, this time, the national security adviser, that we don't owe the American public to follow-through on this investigation until we get all the facts out.

RAJU: Did Senator Burr previously tell you about his conservation with Trump? WARNER: I am -- the focus is, are we going to be able to do this

investigation in a way where we get access to all the witnesses. We will do that. And, I think, again, I was proud of what the chairman said in "The New York Times" story that, you know, he acknowledged that he needed to stay away from the White House. But what's the real issue here is you have this repeated pattern of the president of the United States who is trying desperately to stop this investigation. Cost Jim Comey his job because he wouldn't stop the investigation. He intervened with Senators and other senior intelligence officials. I think the American people and a lot of us ask, why is he so desperate to have this investigation stopped, particularly as we see more and more people either plead guilty or come forward under indictment.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Senator, thank you very much.

SCIUTTO: You were listening there to the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Mark Warner. The Senate Intelligence Committee has its own investigation into the Russian interference in the election.

I want to bring back my panel to discuss this.

And Laura Coates, if I could go to you, you have the advantage of being a former federal prosecutor. Oftentimes, for the layman, it's the lying that folks get caught for. Maybe not another a big error underlying crime. Is that what you are seeing here? Are you seeing the special counsel going after the low-hanging legal fruit?

COATES: Well, it's low-hanging legal fruit, but it's an old adage, I didn't come this far to come this far. Mueller's team did not come this far only to hang their hat on a lying offense. What that suggests is they are talking about a different fish. This is baiting sort of charge on somebody in order to acquire a bigger fish.

Here's the irony of all this. Normally, somebody who was the national security adviser would be one Moby Dick. However, in this particular case, a 25-day term. They have downgraded him to somebody how now can be bait for a bigger fish. We're wondering who that is going to be.

SCIUTTO: Who might that bigger fish be?

COATES: Well, the senior transition official, we are all wondering who that is. But you can believe that prior to Michael Flynn having that guilty plea in court today, he's already turned canary. That's already out there. Mueller's team probably knows who that is. And we'll try to wait and play catch up on who that will be. Remember, his next status hearing is not until February, and sentencing after that. This largely is probably going to drag out in the same way that Papadopoulos had his guilty plea, and months went by before people knew about it, number one, and also who he was corresponding with in the interim. I bet he's been cooperating and we'll see who the bigger fish are going to be. But he's now bait.

SCIUTTO: David Gregory -- (CROSSTALK)

[13:55:08] GREGORY: I was going to say, if he's cooperating and they want his cooperation, he knows some things, that's going to make a lot of people nervous at the very least. And we know President Trump asked Jim Comey, the FBI director, before he fired him, hey, go easy on him. Why did he do that? There is a lot of "why" questions that we don't have the benefit of knowing. We are not inside that investigative trail that the special counsel is on.

But there is a larger picture here of why were there these contacts. Why weren't they truthful about them when we know there was an attempt by Russia to influence the election? And why there was all that coziness between transition folks, campaign folks, and the president himself in the way he spoke about Putin. This is still what we are trying to get to the bottom of. And Flynn can be very important in trying to find out why that is.


SCIUTTO: Carl Bernstein, if I can go to you. I don't want to overestimate the parallels to Watergate, but I guess the commonality is about lying. Lying under oath under a larger investigation that's looking into other potential crimes or legal wrongdoing.

BERNSTEIN: Well, this has been about lying, particularly lying of the president of the United States in public all along, not necessarily perjurious lying. We'll find out about that late.

This is also today very much about family. It's about Flynn and his son and Flynn's fear that his son might be prosecuted. That's one of the reasons that he was willing to be flipped here. But it's also about the Trump family. This means that Jared Kushner is at the center of what Mueller is looking at. There's no getting around that. And we know it from various sources. And it also means that Donald Trump -- we keep looking at his actions and whether they are rational or not, and what he might do next, and whether he might pardon somebody, down the line, and it has to be considered among other things in terms of family as well. Because Trump has known for a while that his family is under investigation. His son, Don Jr, I know and am I aware of a time, I'm told by people in the White House, where Jared Kushner's wife, Ivanka Trump, went to her father and pleaded with him to do something because of these investigations closing in in a family way. There is a dynamic way we need to look at as reporters.

And one last thing to say. None of this is fake news. We can put away the fake news charge once and for all after today. And let's see where this goes, including being fair to Donald Trump as we cover the story, and as we have been.

SCIUTTO: Good call.

You mentioned implications for Jared Kushner. It's my own reporting and as my colleague, Shimon Prokupecz, that we know Jared Kushner was in touch with Israel officials during the transition as well, discussing that United Nations Security Council resolution, which is referenced in the plea agreement regarding conversations Michael Flynn had as well.

But before we go, final thoughts from both of you, Laura and David.

Perhaps, David, if I can begin with you, how big a deal for this president?

GREGORY: Well, among other things, on a day when he's achieving a major legislative victory with this tax bill getting through the Senate, this is the overwhelming story. It's one that has moved the markets because of concern about where it may lead. And it really puts the lie to a president who has been saying that there was nothing to this, that it's all made up on Democrats. He has special prosecutor he's up against doing his job pretty methodically and is now really making some headway.

SCIUTTO: And in the face of repeated attempts by the president to get in the way of this investigation?

COATES: Certainly. And everyone should be nervous who are surrounded by the inner circle of Trump or if you are included in it. Because the charge pled to today was based on a selective amnesia regarding one person who was a common denominator in all of this, Sergey Kislyak. So Jeff Sessions, selective amnesia, perhaps Jared Kushner, anyone else who said, well, maybe I had this, I didn't realize. Well, as of right now, Mueller has drawn a line in the sand and said, based on that amnesia, based on that conduct, that's enough for us to have leverage and to convict.

SCIUTTO: And Sergey Kislyak, in addition to being ambassador, we know was reporting back to the Kremlin as ambassadors do on matters of intelligence.

COATES: Right.

SCIUTTO: David Gregory, Laura Coates, Carl Bernstein, thanks very much.

That's it for me, Jim Sciutto, sitting in for Wolf Blitzer today. We can assure you that this is a story, as well as tax plan, we'll be covering throughout the day.

Our special coverage of these stories continues right now.





[14:00:10] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Jim Sciutto, we'll take it --