Return to Transcripts main page


Flynn Lawyers No Longer Sharing Info with Trump Lawyers; Interview with Representative Kathleen Rice; Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired November 24, 2017 - 07:00   ET


[07:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Could there even be a deal in the works?

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Embattled Democratic Senator Al Franken, meantime, offering another apology amid groping allegations. And it comes as there are growing questions about whether Congress will tackle the issue of why those settlements are being paid out with your tax dollars. Also, what's in those settlements. We have it all covered. We begin with CNN's Joe Johns live in Palm Beach, Florida, with our top story. Joe, good morning.


This raises the question whether there could be more charges on the way. It also clearly shows a change in the relationship between the president's legal team and lawyers for Michael Flynn. There could be a lot of reasons for that. But the framing from the White House is that it doesn't necessarily mean Flynn has now turned on his former boss.


JOHNS (voice-over): A source telling CNN that fired National Security adviser Michael Flynn's defense team is no longer sharing information with the president's legal team, a sign that Flynn could be preparing to plead guilty in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

Mr. Trump's attorney Jay Sekulow disputes that in a statement to CNN. "No one should draw the conclusion that this means anything about General Flynn cooperating against the president."

But the "New York Times," which first reported the story, detailed that the president's lawyers believe Flynn is discussing a deal with Mueller, pointing to the significant criminal exposure that Flynn and his son are facing.

The new revelations coming just weeks after CNN reported Flynn was concerned about his son's potential legal exposure in the investigation.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.

JOHNS: Flynn is one of the most prominent Trump associates under scrutiny over his long-established ties to Russia. Flynn seen here sitting here with Russian president Vladimir Putin in 2015 at an event in Moscow. During the presidential transition Flynn misled Vice President Mike Pence about discussing sanctions with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT: The conversations that took place at that time were not in any way related to new U.S. sanctions against Russia.

JOHNS: We now know that four days after President Trump was sworn in the FBI interviewed Flynn about his calls with Kislyak. Acting Attorney General Sally Yates even warned the White House that Flynn was vulnerable to potential blackmail by Russia. But Trump continued defending Flynn.

TRUMP: This man has served for many years. He's a general. He's -- in my opinion, a very good person. I believe that it would be very unfair to hear from somebody who we don't even know and immediately run out and fire a general.

JOHNS: The president eventually forcing Flynn to resign. It was later revealed that President Trump had been pressuring FBI director, James Comey, to back off investigating Flynn before firing him, too. Flynn also coming under intense scrutiny for failing to disclose payments he received from Russian entities.

The White House reportedly bracing for charges against Flynn after three other Trump associates were recently indicted. But "The Times" notes the White House insists that neither Mr. Flynn nor other former aides have incriminating information to provide about Mr. Trump.


JOHNS: And the president tweeting this morning back on what appears to be one of his favorite issues, the National Football League, re- tweeting in fact a message from one of his assistants, Dan Scavino, but the president himself writing, "Can you believe that the disrespect for our country, our flag, our anthem continues without penalty to the players? The commissioner has lost control of the hemorrhaging league. Players are the boss."

Chris and Erica, back to you.

CUOMO: All right, Joe.

Let's bring in CNN's political reporter and editor-at-large Chris Cillizza, associate editor for RealClearPolitics, A.B. Stoddard, and CNN legal analyst Paul Callan.

Chris, A.B. and Paul, once again, thank you for joining us the day after Thanksgiving. Appreciate it. The best to all your families.

Chris, quick nod to the tweet. Do we see this as just the heartfelt intention of the president or once again him kind of trying to turn heads toward what he thinks work for him with the NFL kneeling deal?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Well, I mean, I think it may well be both, Chris. I think he does believe this in this heart of hearts. But I also think he knows it works with his political base. He has stayed on this issue even while as candidly sort of not been as prominent an issue as it was earlier in the fall. It started, yes, players still do kneel.

That mention by Dan Scavino about Olivier Vernon on the Giants. But it's gotten less attention than when it was sort of an all encompassing story. He knows how to stoke his base. He knows how to move attention. Obviously this coming less than 24 hours after the news about Michael Flynn.

[07:05:06] And I think he's doing all of those things at once. And we know from past Thanksgivings and past holidays, Donald Trump's tweets, when there are less people around him to sort of manage that tend to be more Trumpian. I mean, tend to be a little bit less -- not that they are ever terribly, perfectly formed as a president, but tend to be more private citizen Trump offering thoughts on things. And this is consistent with that.

HILL: Trumpian. I like --

CILLIZZA: Trumpian.

HILL: You seem to be choosing your words very carefully there, Mr. Cillizza.

CILLIZZA: I do what I can.


HILL: You did of course bring up, though, Michael Flynn. And we have not seen anything from the president on this. We've been talking throughout the day about what this really mean about Michael Flynn's lawyers cutting off ties with the president's lawyers, with the Trump team's lawyers.

Paul, lay it out for us. What could it legally mean? And how excited or not excited depending on where you stand on this should people be?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's an important development in that it could mean that they have negotiated a plea deal with Flynn. And maybe as part of that plea deal, Flynn has agreed to supply information about the president or about other White House insiders. However, there are other possibilities. It could be there is a plea deal but no agreement to supply information.

It could be that the plea has to do with things Flynn was involved in prior to his relationship with the president. Remember, he was -- he had his own Flynn intelligence agency that allegedly worked for the Turks and had Russian contacts as well. So we're pretty vague in this.

I thought, you know, on reflection that the most interesting thing about this story is that Flynn has been cooperating with the president for so long. That's really the revelation. You know, a lot of times in criminal cases, if you think your man is going to get indicted, you may want to cut off communication with other people involved in the investigation so that you can cut yourself a better deal.

This suggests a friendly relationship between Flynn and the president and it makes me wonder, is Flynn kind of hedging his bets so that maybe he can get himself a presidential pardon if in fact he was indicted for some crime. That's at least a legal possibility because the president can pardon anybody under U.S. law. That anybody who commits a federal crime, that is.

CUOMO: A.B., that's some value added from Paul Callan. He makes -- he makes a good point that that is unusual and it is interesting that Trump's lawyers have been working closely with Flynn because that's not true in every case in this current investigation.

As I'm sure you've heard, A.B., certain people have been questioned by different political committees, by -- it would involved with the special counsel. There has been a distancing of those mostly gentlemen from -- all gentlemen from Trump inner circle, not with Flynn. What does that mean for you?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Well, that -- I was also surprised to learn that they had been in communication all along. And obviously, why else Michael Flynn and his lawyer cut off communication with them but to cooperate with Mueller to some extent? And Paul obviously makes it clear, we don't know the extent of that will be and whether or not it will give him any immunity or any real protection.

But Mike Flynn was very tight with the president. The president made it clear to James Comey that he wanted him to -- you know, to drop a probe into Michael Flynn. A legal expert told me recently that could be actually interpreted as a bribery. You have to take into account intent. But that is an impeachable offense if it can be interpreted that the president was saying to James Comey, the former FBI director, you get to keep your job if you drop a probe into Flynn.

It is interesting -- there is some speculation that he was maybe hoping for a pardon for him and-or his son. And that maybe it reached the point where it seemed like the president couldn't or wouldn't pardon him. And that's why he might be cooperating now. And remember that the Flynn matter has to do with -- potential obstruction of justice, whereas Manafort is a separate issue, right?

He's being investigated for financial crimes and other things. But he's not involved in the chain of events that led to the firing of the FBI director, which we all have been led to believe it launched the special counsel's interest in a potential obstruction of justice charge. So Flynn is very tied into what could be problematic for President Trump.

Chris, you have been careful this morning to make clear that we don't know that President Trump is implicated in anything having to do with Flynn's dealings with the Russian government or the Turkish government. But this is not good news for the president. What it certainly makes clear is that the Mueller investigation is likely to go on a lot longer than people in the White House are hoping. [07:10:08] HILL: And that timing obviously, a lot longer than people

in the White House are hoping. Just in general because let's be honest, they don't want to deal with it. But also as we're moving into 2018, Chris Cillizza.


HILL: This is not something that is going away.

CILLIZZA: It's not. I feel like it's sort of the low hum, you know, in the background. If you listen for it, it's always there. Obviously we've had a lot between Roy Moore, John Conyers, Al Franken, and then everyone who is not a politician who's been in these sexual misconduct situations. So -- but always the president's tweets, that there's that low hum, and it's always Mueller.

I mean, I think that that's the thing that honestly if you're into political handicapping makes it difficult because it's this massive X factor. We don't really know how long it's going to go. We don't really know how high up it's going to be.

I don't think the indictment of Paul Manafort is the thing that turns the House from Republican to Democratic. I mean, it's not good. You don't want it in your administration. I don't think it's a thing people vote on.

You know, Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr. These are names involved at the center of that -- as A.B. points out, those meetings, the things we don't totally know about, the firing of James Comey. That's the stuff that I think is going to matter.

CUOMO: Right.

CILLIZZA: If we get anything on it.

CUOMO: But look --

CILLIZZA: But we're not there yet.

CUOMO: Some of this is pro-forma. It's just new to people who haven't been around the process.


CUOMO: Which is investigations take a really long time.

HILL: Yes.

CUOMO: This has not been a long time. What is unusual here, Paul, let me bounce this back to you, is how we see different people around the president reacting to what usually is a code of silence. Once you are under investigation in any way, I don't care what term you use for it, you shut up. You have someone like Paul saying to you, shut up, don't talk about it. Don't do anything to antagonize these guys. But with Trump Junior and with Jared Kushner even with a quote in, what, "Vanity Fair"? HILL: Yes.

CUOMO: Let's talk about what their reactions have been and your surprise at them, Counselor Callan. Trump Jr. first. We'll go to the -- put it up on the screen. Whoa.

HILL: More nothing burgers here.

CUOMO: "More nothing burgers from the media and others desperately trying to create a false narrative. Keep coming at me, guys." Now Jared Kushner. Jared Kushner expressed worry after the indictments of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates about how far the investigation could go. Do you think they'll get the president," Kushner asked a friend, according to a person briefed on the conversation.

Paul, what do you make -- first of all, Trump Jr., hopefully he is talking to us and not to the feds because that would be, by definition, crazy talk if he's talking to those guys.

CALLAN: It's absolutely crazy. It's like going to the zoo, you know, with a steak in your hand, and walking into the tiger's cage. I mean, he's saying, come on, bring it on, feds. And it's like the Twitter philosophy of criminal defense which is insult the prosecutor and maybe you'll scare him into backing off.

That doesn't work with a special prosecutor. And they're very -- they're seasoned professionals. But all he is doing is making his own situation worse. I have never seen somebody frankly do this in a serious criminal case to say, bring it on, boys. Because with the feds there are so many offenses that somebody can be charged with that the feds can bring up. Any federal form you ever filled out inaccurately is a potential federal crime. Any inaccuracy to an FBI agent or investigator a potential federal crime. They have a lot of discretion. So it's foolish to taunt the tiger as Don Jr. does.

CUOMO: And that's somewhat reflected in Kushner's question, right?

HILL: Yes.

CUOMO: We don't have any reason to believe that he thinks the president has any exposure. But the concern with an investigation is who knows what they'll find. Go ahead, Cillizza. Sorry.

CILLIZZA: I was just going to say, I mean, the uber example of that to me is Carter Page. Why is continuing to give -- I mean, he's on the TV news, which makes for great TV. But why is Carter Page continuing to give interviews intermittently when he's going to talk to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees?

I mean, my mom always wanted me to be a lawyer. I never want to be one. But as a non-lawyer, I even know that that's really, really dumb.

CUOMO: Well, I'll tell you what, if it means anything to you, you look like one.

CILLIZZA: Thank you.

CUOMO: A.B., final word --

CILLIZZA: I've played one on television, guys.


CUOMO: A.B., final word from you. Let's get some intelligence into this before we end it.

STODDARD: Well, I just think that the --you know, the Flynn matter is more significant than, as I said, the Manafort matter. It's very close to home. He has concerns about his son. It's really hard to look at this and not think that he's cooperating with Mueller. And if -- also they just remember, Mueller just got to Flynn's business partner. It either means business partner exposes Flynn or Flynn is going to turn on the business partner. But it starts a new chapter.

[07:15:04] And that's why it lengthens this. And as we were saying, the political context is it becomes really scary for Republicans. They've got to get their tax reform bill through before anything explodes close to November of 2018.

HILL: So a good distraction for Republicans in that case could of course be what we're seeing now in terms of, as you referenced early on, Chris, in the discussion, what we're seeing in terms of sexual impropriety.


HILL: In terms of allegations and Al Franken back in the headlines again this morning of course because yesterday issuing another apology amid new allegations of inappropriate groping. I guess actually all groping is inappropriate.

When we look at that, yes, it's a distraction, frankly on both sides of the aisle, but it's also an important part of the narrative as we're looking at a short timeframe in which a lot needs to get done when lawmakers return on Monday.

How much does that Franken distraction hurting it?

CILLIZZA: Well, it's -- I mean, look, it's basic math, right? It's the same Roy Moore calculation which his there's only 52 Republican Senators if Roy Moore -- if they abandon Roy Moore and he loses now there's only 51. And you have very little margin.

I think Democrats certainly would much rather be talking about how they believe this tax reform plan is sort of a payoff for corporations and the wealthy. Instead they're having to answer questions about Al Franken. And he's now apologized three times. Twice for groping women in pictures. Once for his conduct with Leeann Tweeden on that 2006 USO Tour. You also have John Conyers who continues to deny these allegations of sexual misconduct that are coming out. You have people like Jim Clyburn who's in the leadership saying, well, maybe it didn't happen. It's the situational ethics I think that is frustrating. I think most

people who look at Washington and see all this stiff happening, think well, what's good for the goose is good for the gander. If you believe the Roy Moore accusers, why don't you believe the John Conyers accusers?

I would say broadly speaking, it's a distraction for Democrats who think they have Republicans absolutely 100 percent on the run. The health care bill that has been tried and failed, hugely unpopular. This tax reform bill, if you believe polling, hugely unpopular. And so even if Republicans get it through, and I think A.B. is right, it's sort of what they believe to be their only path to holding the majority.

Even if they get it through, I'm not sure it pays off in the way that they hope. But regardless, what you have is Democrats not as able to concentrate on sort of what they believe the bad elements of this bill to be. And Republicans worried about their math in that, you know, when this goes through, if Roy Moore is a senator, do you keep him because he's a vote for it? Do you -- if you lost, now you only have 51 so now you can't lose two. You can only lose one.

CUOMO: Right.

CILLIZZA: This is the difficulty I think of being Mitch McConnell or Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader. It's trying to do math while numbers are changing in front of your face.

CUOMO: The shame of it is, this stuff matters when it comes to this sexual misconduct. But the politics are so obvious.


CUOMO: They're chasing Franken because he is a big name. They should be chasing Conyers. You know what I mean?

HILL: Right.

CUOMO: He has more substance to attach in terms of the significance in these types of allegations and the settlements which none of them want to touch because they all knew what was going on with our money.


CILLIZZA: But that's the big story, Chris.

HILL: Nobody wants to talk about it.

CUOMO: Nobody wants to talk about it.

CILLIZZA: That story matters the most, candidly. I mean --

CUOMO: Hit you right in the pocketbook. We're paying for their indiscretions?

CILLIZZA: $17 million and they can't tell you who it was for. I mean, that's stunning. And while each of these individual cases I think absolutely deserves the attention they get, that fact, and I feel like I'm one of the most cynical people in the world when it comes to politics.


CILLIZZA: I was stunned by that fact.

CUOMO: I love -- and the conversations all go the same way. We're going to have several of them today. What do you think of those settlements? Oh, they're no good, they've got to change. Did you know about them? What? Did you know about them? What, I'm sorry, I can't hear you. Got to go.

HILL: My ear is heading out. Satellite issue.

CUOMO: All right. Thank you very much to all of you, especially the day after Thanksgiving.

All right. So what we're talking about right now, the first Democrat in the House to call on her colleague, Congressman John Conyers, to resign over harassment allegations. Her name, Kathleen Rice. She's on the show making her case next.


[07:23:25] CUOMO: An attorney for Congressman John Conyers says the Michigan Democrat will not resign over harassment claims. But one of Conyers' Democratic colleagues now believes he should.

Congresswoman Kathleen Rice says the allegations against Conyers are credible and repulsive. She joins me now.

I hope you had a good Thanksgiving. It is good to have you on the show. Thank you for taking the opportunity.

REP. KATHLEEN RICE (D), NEW YORK: Thank you for having me, Chris.

CUOMO: Conyers says it didn't happen. You say he should resign. Why?

RICE: Because enough is enough. At this point what I am voicing publicly is what every single private citizen is saying across America. Why are the rules for politicians in Washington different than they are for everyone else? And the list is endless. Compare what happened to Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., Mark Halperin. All appropriate consequences. And yet once we start getting into the realm of politicians, well, let's get the Ethics Commission into it and, you know, let's investigate this. You know, and take forever to come up with a conclusion. Sorry. Just lost my earpiece.

CUOMO: That's all right. I will wait for you to get it so that I can ask you a question.

RICE: Got it.

CUOMO: You got it?

RICE: Got it. So I think that's what, you know, people are sick and tired of. The rules in Washington for politicians like me being different than they are for regular people.

CUOMO: All right. Now, Kathleen, I am out of my depth against you because you are a seasoned former prosecutor.

[07:25:01] But you know well that the push back is he's innocent until proven guilty. And while the court of public opinion may -- hang on a second. Let me know when you got it. You got me?

RICE: I can hear you.

CUOMO: All right.

RICE: Yes.

CUOMO: You anticipated the question 10 minutes ago anyway. You know what I'm going to say to you, is that they say innocent until proven guilty. Sure, the court of public opinion, pressure, private entities, they can make people do different things with different pressure points. But what do you make of that push back?

RICE: We're not talking about a court of law here. I have spent my entire career before coming to Washington as a prosecutor. This is not beyond a reasonable doubt. We don't have any legal standard here. We are talking about the court of public opinion. We're talking about holding men accountable for their actions.

And a lot of these men against whom these allegations have been made are never going to face their day in court. The victims in these cases are never going to have their day in court. That's a separate issue. Right now what we're talking about is, is there going to be any level of accountability? And you know, saying that we're going to have these allegations against politicians go before an Ethics Committee that can sometimes take a couple of jurors, no offense to my colleagues who are on the Ethics Committee, but that's not real. That's not real. And that's not accountability.

CUOMO: Why is it not real? We're putting a lot of trust in these ethics investigations that are going to be coming up whether it's with Franken or Conyers or whatever happens if Roy Moore wins his elections, he gets into the Senate?

RICE: In this instance you're asking people, colleagues to judge their colleagues. In this instance where you're talking about harassment, I think what's appropriate is for these men against whom credible allegations are made, and no one is questioning the -- well, some people are. If the allegations are made against them. But I hear politicians saying, I believe every allegation. I believe the women who are saying things against Roy Moore or Donald Trump or Al Franken or fill in the blank. No one is questioning the credibility of these women.

And Chris, it's really important to understand because I -- I've been there. 30 years ago I had -- almost 30 years ago I had an incident in my first workplace, in the Brooklyn D.A.'s office that was terrible. And the way the system works is it does not benefit -- there's no benefit to a woman who comes out and says, I'm being harassed.

CUOMO: Now to be clear --

RICE: There are only professional consequences.

CUOMO: To be clear, Congressman, just -- I know what you're referring to. Other people will not. You're not talking about a case that you tried as an ADA in Brooklyn. This was your own personal experience in the workplace and a claim that you made and what you dealt with afterwards, yes?

RICE: Yes. Exactly. And it was brutal. And ultimately, you know, you don't make things like that public because as a woman in the workplace if you say this is happening to me, you become a professional pariah. You don't have any choice but to accept it. You know, the workplace is not going to address the issue. I treated it very differently when I ran my own office as D.A. I took these very seriously.

There's no benefit to these women coming forward and saying this happened to me. And we see woman after woman making these allegations, saying there was a professional cost to me for coming forward. And yet there isn't for any of these men who are being accused. That has to change.

CUOMO: Settlements. So we find out now that in Congress, look, these things get settled everywhere. There are nondisclosure agreements and there are good reasons and bad reasons that they come up. But they're being paid for with my money when it happens in Washington, D.C. And lawmaker after lawmaker says the same thing.

Do you think that we should have these -- no, no, we have to change it. Do you think taxpayers -- no, no, taxpayers shouldn't pay. Did you know about these? What? I couldn't hear the question. What did you say?

How did you guys not know that this was going on? I mean, you're relatively new down there in D.C. But all they do is gossip about what's going on with one another there. What's the chance that none of you ever heard that people were settling these kinds of claims and you didn't know that there was the equivalent of a slush fund over at the Treasury that uses taxpayer dollars to pay for them?

RICE: Well, I can't speak for any of my colleagues but of course I had heard that. And look, Congress is no different than the private sector. Look at all the payments that were made out whether you're talking about Bill O'Reilly or Harvey Weinstein.

And by the way, let me also say you'll notice that this is not a political statement I'm making. I happen to be a Democrat. But the list is replete with, you know, Republicans and Democrats whether you're talking about private sector or the public sector. I will guarantee you that the regular person out there is absolutely appalled that their tax money is being spent in this way. I shouldn't be.