Return to Transcripts main page


Mueller Probe Lays Out Evidence of Possible Collusion; White House Tries to Distance Itself from Aides Charged. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired October 31, 2017 - 07:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We now have clear evidence that people inside the campaign were seeking Russian assistance, and that is a big deal.

[07:00:28] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI about his contacts with Russia.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It was a volunteer position. No activity was ever done in an official capacity on behalf of the campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please let people know that this guy represents just the tip of the iceberg.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're going to get you for whatever they can find.

KEN DOWLING, ATTORNEY FOR PAUL MANAFORT: There is no evidence that Mr. Manafort or the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: We hope that now it's a wake-up call for my congressional Republican colleagues to get serious about this investigation.

LEON PANETTA, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: We are at the beginning of this investigation, not at the end of it.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. We begin with Special Counsel Bob Mueller's intensifying Russia investigation.

Legal documents unsealed in federal court lay out the clearest evidence yet that President Trump's campaign was eager to work with Russia to hurt Hillary Clinton. These are facts, not allegations. George Papadopoulos, a former campaign foreign policy adviser, has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his meetings with Russian intermediaries.

The bombshell: Papadopoulos has been cooperating with prosecutors for months. Could that even mean he's been wearing a wire?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: So investigators presenting proof that top Trump campaign officials knew about Papadopoulos's attempts to meet with Russia. E-mails between Paul Manafort and his former business associate, Rick Gates, discuss these potential meetings. Manafort and Gates are now under house arrest after pleading not guilty to tax and money laundering charges.

A source tells CNN that President Trump was, quote, "seething" while watching this play out yesterday. Now the White House is trying to distance the president from all these men.

We begin with CNN's Jessica Schneider. She is live in Washington for us.

Good morning, Jessica.


This rapid succession of criminal charges sending shockwaves through Washington, especially since court documents show prosecutors indicate that this is just the beginning.

In fact, George Papadopoulos' guilty plea was kept under wraps for several weeks, because prosecutors didn't want to dissuade other witnesses from coming forward. And while this plea deal made a big impact, prosecutors warn, ominously, that it's just a small part of what might be to come.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office unsealing documents that show former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos has been cooperating with investigators since his arrest in July, Papadopoulos pleading guilty earlier this month to lying to the FBI about his contact with Russia, including a meeting with a London professor, who told him in April 2016 that the Kremlin had obtained dirt on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of e-mails. Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta's e-mail was hacked by Russians the month before.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE VICE CHAIR: Papadopoulos is direct evidence that someone with the campaign was being contacted by Russians.

SCHNEIDER: Papadopoulos's plea agreement describes his testimony as a road map to the ongoing investigation, noting that there is a large- scale ongoing investigation of which Papadopoulos is a small part. The document describes Papadopoulos as a "proactive cooperator," suggesting that, for the last three months, he may have been providing the FBI with information about other Trump campaign associates or even wearing a wire.

The plea agreement outlines Papadopoulos's extensive efforts to establish a connection between Russian officials and the Trump campaign, informing then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort in May that the Russians were interested in meeting with candidate Trump.

Manafort forwarded the e-mail to his deputy, Rick Gates, writing, "Let's discuss. We need someone to communicate that D.T. is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal."

In July, Papadopoulos reached out to a foreign contact, saying that "a meeting has been approved from our side." Days later, WikiLeaks began releasing the e-mails hacked from the DNC, and Trump made these infamous remarks.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.

SCHNEIDER: The following month, a Trump campaign supervisor, identified by "The Washington Post" as former Trump campaign national co-chairman Sam Clovis, told Papadopoulos, "I would encourage you and another foreign policy adviser to make the trip if it is feasible."

[07:05:05] Clovis's lawyer telling "The Post" that he actually opposed the trip and was just being polite.

DOWNING: There is no evidence that Mr. Manafort or the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government.

SCHNEIDER: Papadopoulos's interviews with federal investigators likely contributing to the charges brought against both Manafort and Gates, who pleaded not guilty on 12 counts Monday, including conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts.


SCHNEIDER: And Paul Manafort and Rick Gates were both ordered to home confinement; also ordered to surrender their passports after pleading "not guilty." Both men must check in daily with federal authorities by phone daily, and they can only leave their homes for court appearances or medical appointments. Paul Manafort now being held on $10 million secured bond, Rick Gates at $5 million. And they will both be back in court on Thursday -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Jessica, thank you very much for all of that reporting.

A source close to the White House tells CNN that President Trump is seething over the indictment of these three former campaign aides. The White House, though, is denying facts in their attempt to distance the president from these men.

CNN's Joe Johns has that part of the story. He's live at the White House.

Hi, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Alisyn. Something new for the White House to worry about. It was no surprise that Paul Manafort, the former campaign manager, got indicted. But this foreign policy adviser, Papadopoulos, was a big surprise; and it sent the White House scrambling to try to figure out, explain and even minimize his interactions with the campaign.


JOHNS (voice-over): President Trump was seething as he watched the news play out on TV about the Mueller investigation, according to a source close to the White House. The source telling CNN that the president expected the indictments of former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and aide Rick Gates but was surprised by the revelation that another aide, George Papadopoulos, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is cooperating with authorities.

Mr. Trump spent much of the day hunkered down with his legal team in the White House private residence, growing increasingly frustrated after seeing video of Manafort arriving at the FBI field office to turn himself in.

Publicly, the administration attempted to downplay the charges.

JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I think the reaction of the administration is let the legal justice system work. Everyone is in innocent, until -- presumed innocent, and we'll see where it goes.

JOHNS: The president's lawyer, Ty Cobb, telling CNN that Mr. Trump has not responded to because he doesn't know him. But back in 2016, Mr. Trump touted him as part of his foreign policy team in an interview with "The Washington Post."

TRUMP: George Papadopoulos, he's an oil and energy consultant. Excellent guy.

JOHNS: And this photo from March 2016 shows Papadopoulos sitting at the same table as then-candidate Trump at a national security meeting.

The White House press secretary attempting to distance the president from his former adviser.

SANDERS: It was extremely limited. It was a volunteer position. And again, no activity was ever done in an official capacity on behalf of the campaign.

JOHNS: Sanders falsely claiming that Mueller's charges are unrelated to Mr. Trump.

SANDERS: Today's announcement has nothing to do with the president, has nothing to do with the president's campaign or campaign activity.

JOHNS: A source familiar with former chief strategist Steve Bannon's thinking tells CNN he is urging the president to fight back aggressively against Mueller with a massive public relations campaign, by getting congressional Republicans to engage, and going to court over documents being requests. The president's aides insisting Mr. Trump has no plans to take action against the special counsel.

JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: The president has not -- is not interfering with the Special Counsel Mueller's position. He's not firing the special counsel. He said that before.


JOHNS: Also what's not happening is an attempt to obstruct the work of the special counsel, according to the president's lawyers. He continues to cooperate, they say. There is nothing so far public on the president's schedule today -- Chris and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Joe, thank you very much.

CUOMO: All right. Let's bring in the panel. We have CNN political analyst David Gregory; CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin; and CNN national security and legal analyst Susan Hennessey, former attorney for the National Security Agency. So great guest to have in here.

Susan, let's start with you. When you look at what we learned yesterday, how do you prioritize the discoveries?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, so certainly Manafort is sort of a bigger fish here. He is the higher profile person. It's expected news. And we shouldn't minimize it. It sort of got swept up in the Papadopoulos surprise news. We learned that the president employed as the campaign manager someone who was an unregistered foreign agent, not just for any government but for sort of a puppet regime of Vladimir Putin; that he's accused of laundering really astonishing sums of money, $18 million, so that itself is rather significant news.

[07:10:09] I would say that the Papadopoulos sort of bombshell, and surprise bombshell, is potentially more significant, because it doesn't just touch on sort of his personal activities; but it goes directly to campaign activities and directly to this question of collusion.

CAMEROTA: Jeffrey, you think that the Papadopoulos is more damning. I mean, the Paul Manafort money laundering, big deal.


CAMEROTA: And seeing him walk into that FBI office to surrender, big deal. And his associate, Rick Gates, we know was going to the White House, communicating with the White House even after Paul Manafort left. But Papadopoulos, a name that none of us really knew, you think more damning?

TOOBIN: I do, because it gets you inside the Trump campaign at such a critical moment. Which is, you know, the spring of 2016, which is just before we learned that the stolen e-mails exist. The public learns that. And it's just before June, when Donald Trump Jr. has his infamous meeting at Trump Tower about getting dirt on Hillary Clinton from Russia. So we learned -- you know, one of the things, I thought -- you know,

when Donald Trump gets the e-mail -- Donald Trump Jr. gets the e-mail, saying, you know, "Russia wants to help," he doesn't say, "Wow, that's a surprise," or "Boy" -- he says, "Love it. Let me hear."

This explains why he's not surprised. Because this is a continuing subject of discussion within the Trump campaign. How is Russia going to help Donald Trump get elected president?

CUOMO: So Sanders, the press secretary, Jeffrey, says he's a volunteer. Dismiss him. Volunteer is a bad point for her to make. Because everybody is a volunteer, even at the highest levels.

TOOBIN: Even Manafort, yes.

CUOMO: But speak to it this way. Why would prosecutors want a cooperation agreement with Papadopoulos if he is irrelevant?

TOOBIN: Well, he certainly -- one of the things with prosecutors is that you don't just want to prove a case with e-mails or evidence that can't speak. You need someone, even if it's a minor-level person, who can explain who's who, who talked to who, whose office was where? When was the staff meeting? How often did you have private conversations?

The existence of a cooperator who was on the inside, even at a minor level, is so important, whether you're prosecuting a mafia case, or a insider trading case or any kind of criminal case. To have an insider who can explain the workings of the office is indispensable.

CAMEROTA: Here is -- Jeffrey -- David, Jeffrey Toobin believes from this language here that Papadopoulos may have been asked by the FBI to wear a wire, to capture some other incriminating evidence. Here is the basis of that.

"Defendant has indicated he is willing to cooperate with the government and its ongoing investigation into Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. Public disclosure of the defendant's initial appearance, however, would significantly undermine his ability to serve as a proactive cooperator."

It's that -- those words, "proactive cooperator," that means he might actually have been trying to capture some of their private conversations.

GREGORY: Right. And I think the critical point here is that we have evidence that the Trump campaign was open for business, open to working with the Russians, to dig up dirt on the Russians. We know this from that Donald Jr. meeting. We know it now from this affidavit and this deal. And it raises the prospect then: was the Trump campaign willing to work with WikiLeaks, to dump all those e-mails out?

The candidate himself, now president, said on television, "It would be great if Russia could find all these missing e-mails." So at no point did they ever take seriously the idea that Russia could

actually work to undermine our election, to undermine our democracy, because they thought, "Hey, this is great. We'll take all comers who want to help Donald Trump become president."

And now as president, someone who is responsible for the presidency, he still has shown no interest to do anything about it.

So that's what I think is so important in all of this. Is we're getting inside and insight into a mindset about working with anybody who would help dig up dirt on his opposition.

CUOMO: Susan, relevance of one of the key disclosures yesterday, which was Paul Manafort e-mailing Rick Gates, who is also obviously a volunteer at the campaign, stayed on long after Manafort was gone, saying, "Hey, these suggestions by Papadopoulos to meet, we don't want to do it."

On its face it seems good for Manafort. It shows that he didn't want to have those meetings. But it also is an indication of potential knowledge of what Papadopoulos was talking about. And if Manafort, and maybe Gates, had knowledge that Papadopoulos was being, you know, pitched on stolen e-mails, was there a duty to disclose? What's your analysis of what that suggestion is about?

[07:15:05] HENNESSEY: Right, so this is sort of -- this is contained in a footnote. It's actually ambiguous language. He says Donald Trump isn't going to do this trip. And then in a separate sentence, because we should -- someone low-level, it should be someone low- level. It's not clear whether or not they mean someone low-level should go and actually do these trips, which would be bad news for them or someone low-level should communicate back this information.

You know, so look, one of the things that is sort of the enduring theme, and I think this gets on to the point David was making a moment ago. You know, look, sort of you would expect someone who was presented with information that a hostile foreign government had illegally obtained information about a U.S. presidential candidate to pick up the phone and call the FBI. There's actually a precedent for that. Right?

So past candidates have been given sort of information that they think has been illegally or inappropriately obtained, and they have contacted federal authorities.

So here we're seeing sort of Manafort, Gates and others, Trump Jr., just a few months later, being alerted to even the possibility here. And their reaction is not to contact federal authorities but to say, "Well, how can we use this sort of to our advantage?

GREGORY: We also don't know -- we have a low-level cooperator here, and as I think Jeffrey would certainly say, we don't know whether there's any fruit to the indictment against Manafort to make him a cooperator down the line. And he's a very big figure. This is the campaign manager. And I want to say something I said before, which is let's also use the

Hillary Clinton test on this. If she were president and these facts became known, can you imagine the reaction? Because look at the reaction to her -- people want her, you know, impeached, and she's not even president. They want her to be central to this investigation.

CAMEROTA: I do enjoy that parlor game, of what if this were Hillary Clinton? That's always a useful exercise.

TOOBIN: You know, just in terms of the, like, leverage that prosecutors have, there are -- there's at least one, and there may be two references in Manafort, in the charging instrument, in the indictment of Manafort to his wife, signing tax returns, signing paperwork. You can -- if you sign, intentionally sign a false tax return, you can be prosecuted.

And it is very common for prosecutors to say, "Look, if you don't plead guilty, we're going to go after your spouse."

Michael Flynn has a similar problem. Michael Flynn's son was intimately involved in Trump's campaign. If they have any leverage over the son, it can be used against the father.

CUOMO: There's one other interesting legal note. We know Jay Sekulow, who is an on again, off again adviser -- lawyer to the president, has said pardons aren't on the table.

CAMEROTA: Just this morning he said that.

CUOMO: There's an interesting -- there's an interesting legal dynamic to that. If there were pardons, one of the downsides to pardoning somebody is they can't plead the fifth anymore.

TOOBIN: That's right.

CUOMO: Because they don't have a risk of self-incrimination, because they've been pardoned for their crime. Now, for future crimes, not for things they do in the future. But if someone is pardoned here, they're going to have to testify. So that's an interesting gambit.

TOOBIN: That, too. And you can't -- but one wrinkle to that is President Trump can't pardon anyone for state offenses.

CUOMO: Right.

TOOBIN: And there are investigations going on, New York state attorney general.

CUOMO: They don't have any charges yet.

TOOBIN: No charges.

CUOMO: And he'd be in deep water if he were to pardon somebody in something that involves himself. It could trigger an obstruction situation.

TOOBIN: Correct.

CAMEROTA: All right. Panel, thank you very much for helping us with all that.

So the White House says George Papadopoulos and Paul Manafort had minor roles in the Trump campaign. Is Sarah Sanders rewriting history about the campaign chairman, for instance? We bring you the facts first, next.

CUOMO: Apple versus banana.


CUOMO: All right. Let's go over some facts.

Fact: George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians, interactions in which he sought and was promised thousands of e-mails containing dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Fact: his admission represents the Trump campaign's clearest-cut connection to Russia's effort to meddle in the 2016 election to date.

Fact: George Papadopoulos was a member of the Trump campaign. He was a foreign policy adviser on a team headed by Jeff Sessions. Here he is, see him at the table, Sessions on one end, Trump, then candidate, at a national security meeting on the other.

What are we hearing from the White House now? This.


SANDERS: It was extremely limited. It was a volunteer position. And again, no activity was ever done in an official capacity on behalf of the campaign in that regard.


CUOMO: Context matters. "Volunteer" in the campaign context means something different than you might think. Do you know who else was a volunteer? Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort; campaign official Rick Gates; Jared Kushner; Steve Bannon. You get my point.

The president's attorney says Trump hasn't commented, because he doesn't know Papadopoulos. When asked to name members of his foreign policy advisory team by "The Washington Post" in March of 2016, Donald Trump knew who he was, what he did, and called him a, quote, "excellent guy."

Sanders would go on to say Papadopoulos's activities were outside the scope of the campaign. But here are the facts. His e-mails, included in court filings, prove Papadopoulos was talking to Russians and then passing that information to the highest levels of the campaign, including to campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis, who then encouraged Papadopoulos to meet with the Russians.

Clovis's lawyer tells "The Washington Post" that he opposed any Russia trip, and his responses were only a courtesy.

So that's Papadopoulos.

Now, what about former campaign chairman Paul Manafort? He pleaded not guilty to a host of charges including money laundering and tax fraud. Sanders downplayed his role in the campaign, as well. Listen.


SANDERS: Look, again, this goes back to these were activities that took place outside of the scope of the campaign. I can't comment on anything they did. But look, the president hired Paul Manafort to handle the delegate process, which he did. And he was dismissed not too long after that.


[07:25:09] CUOMO: Not too long after? He was brought in, in May. He left in August. You all know who he is, because he was so central to the campaign.

And by the way, handling the delegate process is a big deal in terms of what got Donald Trump elected. Remember where he was heading into that convention, where he was when he came out. Right?

And Manafort wasn't dismissed after that. He was hired as campaign chairman and praised by the right for how pivotal he was.

But to the White House that's not the story. Hillary Clinton is.


SANDERS: But look, today's announcement has nothing to do with the president, has nothing to do with the president's campaign or campaign activity. The real collusion scandal, as we've said several times before, has everything to do with the Clinton campaign, Fusion GPS and Russia. There's clear evidence of the Clinton campaign colluding with Russian intelligence to spread disinformation and smear the president, to influence the election.


CUOMO: Clear evidence is what leads to an indictment. And we've seen them now of key people around the president of the United States. Sanders is clearly applying a very different level of scrutiny to the White House than she is to Hillary Clinton.

And those are the facts as we know them right now.

Now, to argue the case of the Trump White House is former Trump campaign adviser, Michael Caputo. It's good to have you, Mike.


CUOMO: Absolutely. So did you know about any of this? Did you know about Papadopoulos and him pushing up on the campaign to take these kind of meetings and Manafort not liking it? I ask in the context of you know Paul Manafort very well. You brought him into the campaign. You remain close. Did you know about any of this?

CAPUTO: No, I didn't. I read about it in the newspaper like everybody else did in the midst of the summer this year. And in fact, I never heard of Papadopoulos. He never showed up at Trump Tower. Never had any interaction with any of the campaign leaders around me.

And the leaders of the Washington office of the campaign didn't even know who he was until his name appeared in the press. The guy was -- he was the coffee boy. I mean, you might have called him a foreign policy analyst, but, in fact, you know, if he was going to wear a wire, all we'd know now is whether he prefers a caramel macchiato over a regular American coffee in conversations with his barista. He had nothing to do with the campaign.

And all this contact with alleged Russians is something completely beyond the scope of his volunteer duties.

CUOMO: Look, a lot of people are volunteers. Right? Manafort was a volunteer. And let's put the picture up. You know, we'll get it up at some point.

I don't see any coffee being passed around by Papadopoulos when he's sitting between the president of the United States and Jeff Sessions. I'm not saying that he was the key to the campaign, but he was important enough, Mike, that when he started e-mailing about this stuff, he got the ear of Sam Clovis; he got Manafort communicating with Gates about the suggestions and what to do about them. That is not what you do when a coffee boy asks you to do something.

I get the spin. But the reality is Manafort certainly took it more seriously than you do.

CAPUTO: Well, Manafort had to. If the Russians were trying to get into the campaign through this low-level volunteer staffer, he was there to rebuff it, as he did in the e-mails, as you noted in the show. Paul Manafort pushed back and said the president is not going to be having any of these kind of meetings.

And anyone who interprets that exchange between Paul and Rick Gates via e-mail as saying that Paul was sending a lower-level staffer to meetings with Russians doesn't understand the English language. Clearly, he was saying that a lower-level staffer needed to communicate with these people and tell them these meetings were not going to happen.

I think that Papadopoulos indictment and guilty plea shows that Paul Manafort and the Trump campaign were rebuffing these kinds of attempts of, you know, junior-level people like Papadopoulos, trying to work outside of the scope of his work description for the campaign.

CUOMO: It would be easier to accept that premise if there were an additional fact that we don't have. And we'll do it by way of example. OK? I call you up. We're working on a campaign together. Imagine that, Mike. So I say to you, "There's a guy from Russia. He says he's got these e-mails that they stole from Hillary Clinton, and he wants to give them to me. What do you think? I think we should meet with him." What would you say?

CAPUTO: Well, I would say at that point that this is an inappropriate contact if it's with a Russian government official.

CUOMO: Right. No, no, no. This is somebody -- somebody who knows that they can get them. The point is, your mind immediately goes to "This smells terrible. Stay away from it, and maybe, maybe I should do something about it." We didn't see that from Manafort.

CAPUTO: The kid was 27 years old. I'm not going to...

CUOMO: Whatever he is -- whatever he is, you guys had him at the table next to Jeff session.

CAPUTO: You're trying to ascribe to him -- you're trying to ascribe to him the ability to discern what's right and what's wrong in a campaign...

CUOMO: No, I'm putting that on Manafort.

CAPUTO: ... when he's barely old enough...

CUOMO: I'm putting that on Manafort.

CAPUTO: And Paul Manafort pushed back. Paul Manafort pushed back.

CUOMO: But he didn't tell anybody. He didn't pick up the phone and say, "Hey, FBI, somebody is trying to push up on our campaign. They're saying they have stolen e-mails and it's supposedly a Russian intermediary."

CAPUTO: We don't know that he did that, you're right. We don't know whether he did or didn't do that.

CUOMO: There is absolutely no indication that he did that.