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Trump Now Says Flynn was Fired for Lying to FBI; Report: Trump Transition Knew About Flynn's Russia Contacts; New Details on Flynn's Talks with Russian Ambassador; Trump Nears Major Legislative Win as Russia Cloud Lingers; Flynn's Plea Deal Changes Nature of Russia Probe; Meet the Man Behind Trump's Twitter Outage. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired December 2, 2017 - 20:00   ET

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


[20:00:14] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour. You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. Thanks for staying with us.

Breaking news off the top here on CNN. The political world scrambling tonight to try and figure out if President Trump inadvertently admitted to a serious federal crime today.

The President's private attorney says, no, he was, quote, paraphrasing.

But if the actual words the President tweeted today are true, analysts and even some lawmakers say it's a very, very serious development. Read them with me.

From the President -- I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide.

Now, this is why that statement is so alarming. The President said at the time in February that he fired Michael Flynn as national security adviser because he lied to the Vice President. No mention of Flynn lying to the FBI, the federal crime which Flynn admitted to in that federal court filing.

Now, if the President really did know that Flynn lied to the FBI and then he asked the FBI director at the time, James Comey, to drop the investigation into Flynn, that's what has many of President's critics very concerned tonight.

CNN's Boris Sanchez is joining us now. Boris, tell us about the reaction to this tweet from the President.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Ana. Yes, it has opened up the White House for a series of questions about what the President knew and when he knew it. And there are no shortage of Democratic lawmakers that have begun to attack the President for what appears to be a shifting story as to why Michael Flynn was dismissed.

One of the President's more vocal critics, Ted Lieu, the representative from California, immediately calling out the President, saying that this is obstruction of Justice if President Trump knew that Michael Flynn was deceitful to the FBI.

His asking of former FBI Director James Comey for the investigation into Flynn to be dismissed would be inappropriate, according to Lieu.

He writes: this is obstruction of Justice -- if we can pull that back up for a second. The President now admits he knew Michael Flynn lied to the FBI, yet Trump tried to influence or stop the FBI investigation on Flynn.

Another California representative, this time the Ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

Adam Schiff sent out a separate tweet responding to President Trump in part, writing that if the President is -- if that is true, Mr. President, why did you wait so long to fire Flynn? Why did you fail to act until his lies were publicly exposed, and why did you pressure Director Comey to let this go?

So no shortage of criticism of the President. This is certainly not something that the White House wanted to be addressing today, just several hours after their first major legislative victory and passing tax reform.

The President was shouted questions from reporters as he arrived back at the White House tonight but no response from him there.

CABRERA: So is the White House saying anything apart from the President's private attorney saying that it's a paraphrase of Ty Cobb's statement, that tweet? Which, of course, is false. It wasn't just a paraphrase.

SANCHEZ: Well, that response itself is drawing questions because, as you noted, it wasn't exactly a paraphrase.

There was no remark in Ty Cobb's statement that was put out that specifically dictated that lying to the FBI was a factor in the dismissal of Michael Flynn. It, instead, says that his false statements to people within the White House were ultimately what got him fired.

We should note there's some reporting in "The New York Times" today that reveals -- through e-mails and interviews and paperwork that was filed in court on Friday -- that Michael Flynn briefed several White House officials before and after he met with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, to discuss sanctions.

So there is still plenty of questions to be answered here, and the President's tweet, no doubt, causes just more confusion, Ana.

CABRERA: All right. Boris Sanchez, thank you.

Let's bring in our panel. A lot to discuss with us.

Senior lecturer at Yale University and former FBI special agent, Asha Rangappa; Ethics czar under President Obama and former ambassador to the Czech Republican, Norm Eisen; retired CIA chief of Russia operations, Steve Hall; and former senior adviser to the national security adviser under President Obama, Samantha Vinograd.

So, everyone, knowing what we know now, that Flynn talked to senior members of the transition team, including Jared Kushner, about his conversations with the Russian ambassador. And according to "The New York Times," transition officials also e-mailed about Flynn concerning these calls.

I want to play for you what Sean Spicer said when these calls were first reported. This is from an official transition team call with reporters on January 13th. Listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

[20:05:04] SEAN SPICER, MEMBER, PRESIDENTIAL TRANSITION TEAM FOR DONALD TRUMP: With respect to General Flynn, just to give everyone a tick-tock on this. On Christmas Day, General Flynn reached out to the ambassador, sent him a text, and it said, you know, I want to wish you and -- a merry Christmas and a happy new year. I look forward to touching base with you and working with you, and I wish you all the best.

The ambassador texted him back, wishing him a merry Christmas as well.

And then subsequently on the 28th of December, texted him and said, I'd like to give you a call. May I?

He then took that call on the 28th, and 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. I believe David Ignatius will print a -- I don't want to call it -- I don't -- an update to be more accurate with respect to the events of that day now that he has been provided the information to clarify how that tick-tock went down. But that was it, plain and simple.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

CABRERA: So, Ambassador, that entire story we now know was completely false. And transition officials, including Jared Kushner, who is still in the White House, and K.T. McFarland, who is a nominee for an ambassadorship, let Spicer run with it. Your thoughts?

NORMAN EISEN, FORMER UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE CZECH REPUBLIC: Well, Ana, the scandal just keeps widening every day. As I wrote in a bipartisan op-ed with the Bush-era ethics czar yesterday in "The Times," someone like Flynn doesn't get a cooperation deal unless he is going to roll over on more senior people.

And you're starting to see the tremors of that today with more evidence coming out and the President feeling the heat.

The big question -- in listening to that Spicer tape and the pause where it's almost a tell that he's lying, the question is why, when so many people -- it's clear, after the Flynn plea, so many people in the transition knew that General Flynn was conducting private foreign policy with Russia and also on another matter relating to a U.N. Security Council resolution.

Why did they cover it up so aggressively? And why did Flynn lie about it when he was questioned after becoming national security adviser? What are they hiding?

CABRERA: Samantha, are you surprised to learn that it was not Pence, the lead of that transition team, but Jared Kushner, apparently, and K.T. McFarland who were directing Flynn and the people -- his point of contact regarding these calls?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR TO THE NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Ana, unfortunately, I'm not surprised by much anymore, but what is very clear is that this transition team was running a rogue foreign policy.

Let's take a step back and think about what transition teams are supposed to do. They're supposed to ensure that there is a policy transition between the administration and the incoming administration.

It's not unusual for there to be policy differences. But in this case, senior transition team officials were working directly with a foreign government, Russia, on U.S. policy priorities and not coordinating with the White House.

A transition team has a direct line of communication to the White House. Vice President Pence, General Flynn, K.T. McFarland, or Jared Kushner could have picked up the phone, contacted the White House, and talked about differences in policy. Instead, they went directly to the Russians.

CABRERA: And that's a problem, you're saying?

VINOGRAD: That's a huge problem because it sends conflicting signals to the government of Russia about what U.S. policy is, as well as any other governments that General Flynn was in touch with.

As Norm mentioned, Jared Kushner, a very senior transition team official, directed General Flynn to reach out to the Russians and other foreign governments to directly undercut the Obama administration's policy on various issues.

CABRERA: Including that U.N. Security Council vote, about his involvement.

VINOGRAD: Exactly.

CABRERA: Asha, when you consider the criminal misconduct Flynn was alleged of committing, lying to the FBI seems like a pretty light charge. What do you make of that?

ASHA RANGAPPA, DIRECTOR OF ADMISSIONS AND SENIOR LECTURER, YALE UNIVERSITY'S JACKSON INSTITUTE FOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS: Well, considering all of the other allegations that were around him, which included not registering as a foreign agent -- we now he retroactively did that -- plotting to kidnap a Turkish opposition official on U.S. soil and deliver this person to Turkey, if Mueller had evidence on those crimes, Flynn had the potential to go away to prison for 30 years or more.

He got zero to six months, and that means that he has something emphatically (ph) --

CABRERA: And basically, we're still waiting for a sentence to be handed down by the judge, but you're talking about what's sort of outlined in the agreement --

[20:10:04] RANGAPPA: What's in the plea deal.

CABRERA: That is recommended, yes.

RANGAPPA: What was agreed to. And, you know, to go to what the other panelists have been saying, he knows exactly who was involved with these directions to reach out to Russia.

And one thing is clear, Ana, in direct contradiction to everything that every official in the White House has been saying so far, these people were all on the same page.

These weren't just accidental, you know, people showing up and Russians appearing out of nowhere. They had a coordinated effort here in order to reassure Russia that they were going to, you know, make good with them.

And as Samantha mentioned, you know, there can be policy differences, but doing this in a covert manner while there is a completely opposite foreign policy stance being taken is incredibly significant. Whether or not this amounts to criminal collusion or not, it's something that people need to really look at and take seriously.

CABRERA: Steve, given Flynn's intelligence background, listen to what a former Watergate special prosecutor speculated could have happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, FORMER WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: What if General Flynn, who has a background of military intelligence, as we all know, took the precaution of tape recording conversations with others who might been involved in directing him throughout the transition to do certain things and has those tape recordings?

Those would be very valuable to Flynn and to Mueller, of course, if Flynn anticipated that someday he would be hung out to dry and made to be the patsy here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Steve, do you think that's possible?

STEVE HALL, FORMER CHIEF OF RUSSIA OPERATIONS, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: Well, Ana, it's -- I mean, it's certainly possible and it's certainly enticing and fascinating and sort of titillating would he be doing this. And then the question becomes, OK, so what -- you know, what information would he then proffer to Mueller and his team?

I think that we might be getting a little too caught up in, you know, what's referred to often as violations of the Logan Act. You know, was somebody like Flynn, whether or not he was secretly recording things or not, trying to, you know, start a diplomatic set of events prior to the inauguration of the President -- of President-elect Trump?

I think we need to step back and remember what Mueller, I think, is really focused on here and what the brass ring is. I don't think Mueller cut the kind of deal, which is very good as Asha indicated for Flynn, just to get, you know, more coup on how it was that the Kislyak meetings went down.

I think it has to do with the -- with whether or not the Trump team did indeed collude, cooperate or contact the Russian government during the lead up to the election in an attempt to win it and with Russian assistance.

The other stuff, certainly, is important. Obstruction of justice, of course, is no light thing, but we know for a fact that the Russians tried to attack our democratic institutions. Not just ours but the West as well. And I think that's really what Mueller is focused on.

And I think Flynn is the first guy out of these others who have been subjected to legal maneuverings. Flynn is the real guy who has a front row seat and be able to -- would be able to comment and help Mueller on what I think is the real key to his investigation at this point.

CABRERA: Ambassador, we've talked a lot about Trump's apparent loyalty to Flynn. Could it be, though, that maybe his loyalty wasn't necessarily to Flynn to Kushner, considering Kushner is reportedly the one who ordered Flynn to contact the Russian ambassador?

EISEN: I think that's right, Ana, that the -- the question here is why -- it's the other question besides the collusion one in the election that Steve points to, Trump's obstruction of justice.

Trump didn't just ask Jim Comey to see his way clear to letting Flynn go. When Comey wouldn't do it, he fired him. There's reports that that was at Kushner's behest.

And we shouldn't make the mistake of thinking that the shoes that dropped yesterday, as many as they were, are the last ones. There's -- what would cause Kushner and Trump to be so panicky, to take such risks here? What else is coming down the pike?

You know, I've worked both with and against Bob Mueller. And I can tell you, he's got a lot of additional cards up his sleeve to give that kind of a sweetheart deal to Flynn. So I do think there is some terror (ph) in Trump world that resulted in this. There's more exposure on obstruction and choppy waters ahead.

[20:14:52] CABRERA: Samantha, getting to Steve's point that he was making about Russian collusion and that central question as part of the Mueller probe, we were discussing these e-mails Boris brought up that, apparently, have made their way to "The New York Times" that involve K.T. McFarland communicating with other members of this transition team regarding Flynn's calls.

And she seems to be concerned about how Russia is going to react to these sanctions.

VINOGRAD: The e-mails paint a very scary policy story. A senior transition team official, who later became, by the way, deputy national security adviser, was, for some reason, more concerned with appeasing Russia than she was with why sanctions were levied in the first place, which was a direct attack on the United States in the form of election meddling.

So K.T. McFarland was worried about how Russia was going to be -- was going to react to being held accountable for their illegal activity.

And by the way, Obama did not put sanctions on Russia to discredit Trump, as K.T. McFarland suggests in her e-mail. The sanctions were put in place with bipartisan support because Russia attacked our country.

CABRERA: Why would they be so concerned then about what Russia thinks about all of these and the impact?

VINOGRAD: From the e-mails that we've seen -- and there could be a lot of reasons, some elicited and some not, why they'd be concerned -- it appears that the administration wanted to have a closer relationship with Russia.

Now, as I mentioned previously, that could be a policy shift from the Obama administration. But typically, a transition team would get their policy in order and wait until they were in office to start charting a different course. Their contact with the Russian government was both improper, and it was dangerous.

CABRERA: Asha, I wanted to ask you one more quick question. And that is, we know Jared Kushner went and met with Mueller's team before Michael Flynn's plea deal came out. And at the time, we were hearing from sources that it was simply to make sure he didn't have any information that might exonerate Flynn.

But now, when we've peeled back the curtain on who was involved as part of these discussions with Russia and the central role that Kushner may have played, do you think there is more to that interview that Mueller had with Kushner?

RANGAPPA: I think there's absolutely more, and I think that anyone who has spoken with Mueller until this point should be very afraid. At this point, Mueller now has a key witness, as has been stated by the other panelists right now, who has seen everything that went on and can give him firsthand eyewitness accounts of who knew what when.

And anyone who has spoken with Mueller and who has made a false statement, who has lied to an FBI agent or to the investigative team, is now in danger of being charged with at least false statements, which we know that Mueller has already brought.

So absolutely, I do think that that last interview with Jared Kushner did lock him into certain testimony about Flynn. And those questions may have included -- did Flynn at -- were you at Mar-a-Lago on this date, and did Flynn ever report back to you his conversations with Ambassador Kislyak?

If Kushner said no to that, that is a lie. We know that now from the statement of facts and we also know that Flynn will testify to that.

So that's just a starting point, and I think that, as Norm said, there are many shoes to drop. It's basically raining shoes right now. And at the end of this, everyone's going to be barefoot. So there's more to come.

CABRERA: We'll leave it there. Steve Hall, I owe you a question next time. Thank you all for lending your insight on this. I really appreciate it.

Still to come. Remember this?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN (RET.), FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If I did a tenth -- a tenth -- of what she did, I would be in jail today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: A look back at Michael Flynn and Donald Trump's relationship and how Flynn went from retired three-star general to tough member of the Trump White House. Stay with us. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

[20:19:03] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CABRERA: Michael Flynn's guilty plea reveals significant new details about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The court filings show Kislyak told Flynn Russia would not retaliate immediately to U.S. sanctions leveled by President Obama. And Kislyak said that specifically in response to a request Flynn made to him.

So let's talk it over with Ambassador Thomas Pickering who served as the U.S. Ambassador to Russia from 1993 to 1996.

Ambassador, thank you for your time tonight. What's your take? Is this type of foreign policy discussion typical in ambassadors' diplomatic circles?

THOMAS PICKERING, FORMER UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: It would be typical if Flynn at the time had been a member of the U.S. government. It would not be typical for somebody acting outside the government to go and importune the Russians to do certain things, perhaps in the expectation it would win them favors (INAUDIBLE).

CABRERA: I want to try to stick with you here, but I know we're having just a little bit of an audio issue. So hopefully, we'll -- it's corrected, but I want to push you a little bit on that because --

PICKERING: Sure.

CABRERA: -- it wasn't just about the sanctions that we've learned they discussed. We understand Flynn and Kislyak also discussed the U.N. Security Council vote, right, on the Israeli settlement, to try to influence Russia and other governments, in fact, to delay the vote or defeat that resolution.

You point out that this was before President Trump took office. How do you think that would have been then received by these foreign leaders?

PICKERING: Well, I think the other foreign leaders could only, one way or another, try to judge what the next administration might mean for them and what cooperation would produce.

[20:24:53] And in the second -- the second area of the sanctions, the Russians said no. But in -- I'm sorry, the second area in terms of the U.N., the Russians said no. But in the first area with respect to sanctions, they later made an announcement saying they were going to hold off retaliating against the United States. And they held that off for quite some time.

And this, of course, is, at the time, private individuals appearing to negotiate for the United States government. That's against a law that was passed back in 1799 that nobody thinks has any real potency (ph).

CABRERA: The Logan Act?

PICKERING: Yes. But the really interesting thing here is why would Flynn not tell the truth about that, and (INAUDIBLE) what was it being hidden for? Those are the interesting questions.

And more interesting even than that is the question of why has President Trump been so friendly with the Russians? What's in it for him? Or is there something that the Russians have, some kind of kompromat, which the Russians call it, some kind of way (INAUDIBLE) possible blackmail to influence him.

Those are things we don't know. They may come out in the Mueller inquiry, and they're important.

CABRERA: Do you think this Flynn guilty plea has an impact beyond the U.S. border right now?

PICKERING: Of course, I think it does. I think everybody is now looking to see whether, in fact, is this an arrow pointing it at Jared Kushner? Does that arrow continue beyond Kushner to point at the President?

Is there stability in the United States government under these circumstances? Is this headed for something like President Nixon, to the time in fact that he ran up against much the same problem in an entirely different context?

CABRERA: Ambassador Thomas Pickering, thank you very much for that tonight. We appreciate you spending some time with us.

PICKERING: Thank you, Ana, very much. It's nice to be with you.

CABRERA: Up next, back to the breaking news, "The New York Times" now reporting new evidence on Michael Flynn's role. One of the reporters on the byline who saw the e-mails that show Flynn worked with senior transition team members on Russia joins me next. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:31:40] CABRERA: What a difference a day can make. Twenty-four hours ago, the White House was feeling the heat of Robert Mueller's probe after the President's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians.

Well, early this morning, Senate Republicans passed that GOP tax bill, putting the President one step closer to a landmark legislative achievement. Despite the big win, Russian election meddling shadows the Trump administration and it's what lead to the latest controversial tweet by the President today.

CNN's Tom Foreman is here now with more on the evolution of Trump and Flynn. Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Ana. With all of this scrutiny now focused on Michael Flynn, it's perhaps no surprise the White House is trying to put a lot of distance between him and the President.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FLYNN: The next president of the United States right here.

(APPLAUSE)

FOREMAN (voice-over): On the campaign trail, Michael Flynn seemed a true fan of Donald Trump and the admiration mutual as the courted votes from the military community.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have tremendous military support, unbelievable military support.

And having, as you know, General Flynn here and having so many of the generals at our side. In fact, we have -- where is General Flynn? He's around here someplace.

(APPLAUSE)

FOREMAN (voice-over): Flynn was once a member of Barack Obama's team and a top military intelligence officer. Then he fell out of favor. He was fired.

And by the summer of 2015, he had done an odd about-face and began talking to Republican candidates. And when he met Donald Trump -- I knew he was going to be president of the United States. FLYNN: For Donald J. Trump to be the next president of the United

States.

(APPLAUSE)

FOREMAN (voice-over): Flynn began advising the campaign in early 2016. By the time of the Republican Convention that summer, he was leading the chants against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

FLYNN: Lock her up, that's right.

CROWD: Lock her up! Lock her up!

FLYNN: If I did a tenth -- a tenth -- of what she did, I would be in jail today.

FOREMAN (voice-over): On Twitter, Trump praised Flynn's book on how to defeat radical Islam. And 10 days after winning the election in November, he chose Flynn as his national security adviser. Flynn took the job in January after the inauguration.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, SENIOR ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Yes, General Flynn does enjoy the full confidence of the President.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Then it all unraveled. Flynn admitted he misled the Trump team about his Russian communications.

SPICER: At some point, that trust eroded to a point where the President did not feel comfortable.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Still, even as Flynn was given the boot and the Russia investigation swirled, the President seemed reluctant to let him go.

TRUMP: When I looked at the information, I said, I don't think he did anything wrong. If anything, he did something right.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: None of this proves the President was tied to any potentially secretive or nefarious dealings with the Russians. But it does show he and Michael Flynn were close, no matter how much the White House may now try to deny it -- Ana.

CABRERA: Tom Foreman, thanks.

Up next, Washington reeling over news Michael Flynn has taken a plea deal in the Russia investigation. Former top White House adviser David Axelrod weighs in, next. Live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

[20:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CABRERA: Beyond the President's tweet today, members of his administration and Republican leaders are noticeably silent on Michael Flynn's guilty plea and his agreement to cooperate with the Russia probe. But a member of the past administration that Flynn was a part of for some time as well did weigh in.

I spoke with CNN's senior political commentator and former Obama adviser, David Axelrod, as new was breaking on this plea deal. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CABRERA: President Obama had warned Trump about him and hiring him.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.

CABRERA: What do you think Flynn's guilty plea really means, big picture?

AXELROD: Well, I mean, it's a huge, huge development because, here, you have someone who is way inside the Trump inner circle, both in the campaign and in the first weeks of the administration.

[20:40:03] You know, I think that one of the fundamental questions is who is he talking to and who instructed him to go?

He -- the implication is that he was instructed to have these conversations, and so we get to that question that we used to hear back in the '70s during the Watergate investigation. And that is -- what did the President know and when did he know it?

And Michael Flynn has signaled that he is -- he is willing to share everything that he knows, and that has to be very disquieting to the President and others around him.

It changes the nature of this investigation. Clearly, you can no longer dismiss it as a hoax. Now, it is deadly serious.

CABRERA: If you were advising the President right now, what would your advice be?

AXELROD: Well, I think the advice when -- the advice he needs right now is more from his lawyers than from any of his political strategists or communications strategists, although I would advise him to be very circumspect about this. At some point, he is going to have to -- he is going to have to confront everything that he knows.

And you know, the thing, Ana, that I found most noteworthy about what happened yesterday amid everything else, I was really struck by the image of this man who, 10 months ago, was national security adviser for the United States, the top national security adviser for the President, walking into a courthouse in Washington and pleading guilty to a crime that he committed while he was in the White House.

And it just -- it reminded us all that no one's above the law. Not the national security adviser, not the President of the United States. Now, we don't know where this investigation is leading.

CABRERA: Right.

AXELROD: And if it doesn't lead there, we should know that, too. But if it does, then the country needs a full accounting of what happened.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CABRERA: Up next, exclusive "New York Times" reporting about e-mail exchanges between Flynn and top Russian officials -- Trump officials, I should say. The "New York Times" reporter on the byline is going to join us next live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:46:34] CABRERA: Breaking news this hour on CNN, a single tweet from the President today adding to the twists and turns in the Russia investigation.

The President, in his tweet, suggests he knew Flynn had lied to the FBI about post-election contact with the Russians. And that revelation is shocking because that was not the President's story earlier this year when Flynn was sacked after just 24 days on the job.

I want to get to "New York Times" reporter Scott Shane.

Scott, the President and the White House have continued to say this is all on Flynn. He acted alone in these conversations with Russia. But your new reporting today may prove otherwise. Tell us about it.

SCOTT SHANE, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: That's right. My colleague, Michael Schmidt, got ahold of some e-mails from December 29th of last year, which was a pretty big day. It was a day -- it was the day that Michael Flynn called the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak.

What the e-mails show and what the documents released when Michael Flynn, yesterday, pleaded guilty is that, actually, all of the top transition officials seem to have been aware that he was going to make this call to the Russian ambassador, seem to have been -- you know, essentially been briefed on what happened during the call afterward. And that they were all also focused on Russia and how to improve relations with Russia.

CABRERA: What stood out the most to you in reading or what you have learned about these e-mails?

SHANE: You know, what really stands out is a comment by K.T. McFarland, who was going to become deputy national security adviser under Michael Flynn.

And she actually says, in characterizing -- it appears to be her characterizing, you know, how this will look, says that Russia had thrown the USA election to Donald Trump. But there it is in the e- mail, and so I think that was quite striking to see that they were, you know, certainly considering that as a possibility.

CABRERA: There's no mention of the President being part of any of these conversations. In the e-mails that you have read, that you have been -- that have been described to you, any indication that the President knew about these conversations or was involved? SHANE: Well, no, that remains uncertain. Michael Flynn was briefing

him at this time, you know, very frequently, if not every day. And there was actually a call that involved Mr. Trump, President-elect Trump, and all of these aides scheduled for 5:00 p.m. on the 29th of December, which would, we believe, have been before Flynn called the ambassador.

The big question lingering behind all this about the e-mails is, you know, why did the President want to shut down the investigation of Flynn, which resulted in the guilty plea on Friday? And why did he fire Jim Comey when he didn't shut that investigation down?

You know, what was it that bothered Mr. Trump so much about the investigation? We still don't have an answer to that question.

CABRERA: Such a big question. Scott Shane, again, with "The New York Times," thank you for that.

[20:50:03] So today was one of those days where a lot of people probably thought why won't the President stop tweeting?

Remember when somebody knocked President Trump's Twitter account offline? The person behind that speaks out.

Just ahead, the former Twitter employee talks to CNN about how and why it happened. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CABRERA: Stop the tweeting. That was the message from some lawmakers at home and even allies abroad after the President retweeted a series of anti-Muslim videos this week. His actions raised concerns about protests at U.S. embassies in the Middle East.

[20:55:03] And while some Trump allies do wish his Twitter account would go away, a wish Trump's lawyers may share tonight as well, it actually did happen very recently. An 11-minute blackout that sent Twitter into a tizzy. And behind it all was an ordinary guy.

The contractor who briefly took down the President's Twitter account this month is speaking out to CNN. He says this wasn't a political vendetta, just something that could happen to anyone on a long day when you're tired and have a headache.

Our Laurie Segall spoke to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BAHTIYAR DUYSAK, FORMER CONTRACTOR, TWITTER: It was last day. It was a very hectic day and I was tired. And, yes, sometimes human beings do mistakes, and it was one of these days.

LAURIE SEGALL, CNN SENIOR TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT: Did you realize it was Trump's Twitter account?

DUYSAK: No, I didn't realize it, but, also, I didn't spend any extra effort to figure out whose account it was. And so this was my mistake. Maybe my thoughts where like -- like, even if it was a high- profile account, I would never believe that it would come so quickly to an -- to a -- to the deactivations.

SEGALL: You didn't think an action you had would have the power to take the President of the United States off Twitter?

DUYSAK: Yes, I was not aware of it. And I think that this can be clarified better by Twitter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Um, oops? Laurie Segall is joining us now.

So, Laurie, remember when this news broke?

SEGALL: Right.

CABRERA: The President, himself, accused this person of being a rogue employee who wanted to send a message on his last day of work.

SEGALL: Right. And by the way, so did Twitter. And what was interesting is when I spoke to him, he said, no, this wasn't a political vendetta.

It was just -- he was part of a group, he said -- and this is what he's telling me -- that, if an account was flagged, it came in front of him. And he just kind of, like, put the wheels in motion, didn't think anything of it.

He said he didn't realize it was the President's Twitter account. You heard him say, you know, he had a headache. It was just one of those days.

But if you take a step back, I mean, that's a pretty big deal. And that's not comforting that a contractor, not even an employee, had the ability to take the President of the United States offline.

And he said he didn't even realize, Ana, that he did it until he saw media reports saying that it was a rogue employee on his last day. And he is like, you know, I realized it was -- I was the only one that it was their last day. So that really isn't comforting.

And by the way, the folks that -- I know a lot of people who didn't like Trump's tweets and thought he was a hero for taking Trump offline. He also told me that he really actually appreciates Trump as a businessman, although he thinks he has some work to do politically. So a very interesting interview.

CABRERA: So as you just pointed out, it wasn't just him saying this. A lot of other people have said that one person shouldn't have been in a position where they could take, you know, a misstrike or something and have this kind of outcome. What is Twitter saying about that?

SEGALL: Yes, I think we're all asking about security now. They put out a statement, and they essentially said that they are taking steps to ensure that something like this doesn't happen again. They wouldn't go much further, they said, for security reasons.

But the larger issue, Ana, is also this idea of transparency and power. I think, increasingly, companies like Twitter are almost becoming like these democratic institutions where they have the ability to control what we see and what we don't.

So whether it's a contractor with this ability or just the idea that these companies are making these editorial decisions. You mentioned before these anti-Muslim videos that Donald Trump tweeted earlier.

You know, Twitter came out and said twice one different reason why they're not taking it down, another reason why they're not taking it down. A lot of folks are saying, well, you know, that's anti your policy on hateful conduct.

So there's a larger discussion to be had here about the editorial decisions and what's happened behind closed doors at these increasingly powerful tech companies.

CABRERA: Just a short time here, Laurie, left in our show, but I had to think -- when he was speaking out, I felt a little bit worried for him in this climate that we live in.

SEGALL: Yes.

CABRERA: Was he afraid to say I'm the one who did it?

SEGALL: He said, at first, he was a little bit nervous, but he lived in San Francisco. Now, he's in Germany so he's away from the States. But I asked him that exact question. You know what he said, Ana?

Ana, he said, I'm really am happy. I'm really at ease.

He's not worried about a lawsuit because he was just doing his job which was to take care of flagged accounts, which is astounding, if you even think about it. So he said he wasn't breaking the law by any means, and he says he's doing just fine.

CABRERA: Good to hear it. Laurie Segall, what a story. Thank you.

SEGALL: Thank you.

CABRERA: Be sure to catch Laurie's special, "DIVIDED WE CODE," next Saturday, December 9th at 2:30 p.m. right here on CNN.

And that's going to do it for me tonight. I'm Ana Cabrera. Thank you for joining me in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Up next, a CNN special report, "LATE NIGHT IN THE AGE OF TRUMP." Have a great Saturday.

[21:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)