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Flynn Pleads Guilty to Lying to FBI: Cooperating in Probe; CNN: Trump and Team "Totally in a Bubble, This is Like a Red Alert"; Flynn Pleads Guilty to Lying to FBI, Cooperating in Probe; Senate About to Vote on a Tax Bill. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired December 1, 2017 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:15] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn. Good evening. Those are the words of White House lawyer Ty Cobb.

Tonight, to the contrary, the many implications for current and former senior transition and administration officials of former national security adviser Michael Flynn's guilty plea in the Russian investigation. The many ways it suggests there may be far more to come, because he also agreed to cooperate with Robert Mueller. The many ways it undermines virtually everything the president and his surrogates have been saying about Russia for month after month after month, the many ways it fills in pieces oh of a fact picture, and potentially bleak picture for the White House, people close to the president, notably son-in-law Jared Kushner and perhaps even for the president himself.

Now, whatever comes to pass, what happened today, Flynn's admission that he lied to the FBI, the contact with Russia's ambassador to the United States and what's contained in the court filing moves the needle. It gives context to everything we've learned so far.

And keeping them honest tonight, it stands in sharp contrast to what much of the administration has been saying about Russia again and again and again.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Russia story is a total fabrication. It's just an excuse for the greatest loss in the history of American politics.

Russia is a ruse.

There is no collusion. You know why? Because I don't speak to Russians.

This Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. The entire thing has been a witch hunt.

Look, there has been no obstruction, there's been no collusion. All I can tell you is this, there was no collusion. There was no nothing.

Russia has 20 percent of our uranium. I think that's your Russia story. That's your real Russia story. Not a story where they talk about collusion, and there was none.


COOPER: Well, that has been the line, even as one revelation after another undermines it.

First, with respect to contact during the campaign, some of which the guilty plea of George Papadopoulos revealed. He was derided as a mere coffee boy by people in the White House. However, former lieutenant general, former defense intelligence agency director, former national security adviser of the president of the United States is no mere coffee boy. He was central to the campaign and central to the transition.

Now, simply put, part of the very tight inner circle, a big fish, and now for Robert Mueller, a big catch -- a big piece in this puzzle, as well. With the information contained in Michael Flynn's plea, a window opens into contact with Russia during the transition, possibly illegal attempts to conduct foreign policy, and then lying about it during his brief tenure as national security adviser.

Today's news also sheds new light on something fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates said to me about the trip she made to the White House on the 26th of January to warn that General Flynn had lied about at least one Russian contact, was known to have lied, and was therefore potentially vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians.


COOPER: When were you first made aware that General Flynn was lying about his interactions with the Russian ambassador?

SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, first, let me say, and I know this may seen artificial to folks, I can't talk about what General Flynn's underlying conduct was, because that's based on classified information.

COOPER: Can you say when you were made aware about an issue with his underlying conduct?

YATES: It was in the early part of January, where we got some indication about what he had been involved in. And then sort of the middle part of January when there were false statements that started coming out of the White House based on misrepresentations he had made to people there.


COOPER: She was fired five days after first warning the White House, and Flynn was allowed to stay on another two weeks, even though, as you just heard, the White House knew Flynn was lying about Russian contacts. Getting back to the underlying conduct which Sally Yates declined to tell us about, it is now revealed in Robert Mueller's charging document today. It centers on late December.

And before we dig deeper on that with our correspondents and our legal panel over the next hour, a reminder just of the context. This is happening weeks after the U.S. intelligence community warned that Russia had meddled in the election, and at the very same time that President Obama is sanctioning Russia for that meddling. Also, obviously, after the Trump Tower meeting, the Russian contacts by Carter Page and now we know George Papadopoulos.

Additionally, it came after the contacts with the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the Republican convention, after the December meeting at Trump Power, the one involving Flynn and Jared Kushner, which Kushner asked about setting up a private communications channel between the transition team and the Kremlin.

[20:05:06] Now, in other words, what is described in the documents today transpired after many related developments, and prior to many others, including the president allegedly asking James Comey to go easy on Flynn. His firing then of James Comey, his reported leaning on Republican lawmakers to end their own investigation, and of course, the naming of Robert Mueller.

So, according to the charging document, on or about the 28th of December, as President Obama announces sanctions, Kislyak contacts Flynn. On or about the next day, Flynn contacts a senior transition official at Mar-a-Lago. We now know who she is. We'll have more on that shortly.

Then he calls Kislyak, and according to the charging document, later lies about it to the FBI. The Russians, you'll recall, do not retaliate for the sanctions, which raised a lot of questions at the time.

The 30th, President-elect Trump tweets: great move on delay by V. Putin. I always knew he was very smart.

Kellyanne Conway was at Mar-a-Lago when all this was going on, and her line -- nothing was going on.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: We've been talking about this for a while. I think that all we heard all through the election was Russia, Russia, Russia. Whenever it came to anything Donald Trump said or did, it seemed most days, and now, you know, since the election, it's just this fever pitch of accusations and insinuations.

And we know why Hillary Clinton lost. I think the keys and clues are pretty obvious, they were obvious to us all along. They're obvious to everyone now. And I don't believe Vladimir Putin deterred her from competing in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, states that Donald Trump carried for the first time as a Republican in decades.


COOPER: So, again, she said that on or around the very day we now know Flynn was talking to Russians and reporting back to Mar-a-Lago where Kellyanne Conway did that interview. And just a couple of weeks later on "Face the Nation," here's what

Vice President-elect Mike Pence said about Flynn's conversations with Kislyak.


MIKE FLYNN, THEN-VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT: It was strictly coincidental they had a conversation. They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States' decision to expel diplomats or impose a censure against Russia.


COOPER: Well, today's charging documents suggest clearly otherwise about that and about more, and even as the repercussions are just beginning, we are already learning more about the events described in them, and the circumstances surrounding them.

So with that, for the very latest, I want to go to now CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown.

So, Pamela, just walk us through what happened today in court, specifically what Flynn admitted to lying about.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, Flynn's charge of lying to the FBI and the plea agreement center around conversations he had with then-Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak in December last year. And the court documents filed today, we learned on December 29th, Flynn called his subordinate, former deputy national secretary adviser, KT McFarland, and other transition officials at Mar-a-Lago where they discussed the new sanctions being imposed on Russia. Other transition officials at Mar-a-Lago that weekend include Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, and Kellyanne Conway.

And according to Flynn, the transition officials did not want Russia to escalate the situation. So, Flynn immediately called Kislyak asking Russia not to overreact to sanctions that the U.S. government imposed on Russia that day.

The court documents say Flynn called McFarland back and briefed her on the call with Kislyak about the sanctions. That is noteworthy because Vice President Pence as you'll recall stated on national television in January, the next month, sanctions were not discussed with Kislyak. But now we're learning, at the very least, Anderson, administration officials beyond Flynn knew that and knew that was a lie what Pence said on national television.

Also today, another interaction Flynn had with the Russian ambassador was revealed, according to court documents. On December 22, a senior Trump transition official, who we now know is Jared Kushner, asked Flynn to find out how foreign governments, including Russia, view an upcoming U.N. security resolution about settlements in Israel, and to, quote, learn where each government stood on the resolution, and to influence those governments to delay the vote or defeat the resolution. And so, Anderson, today the government said Flynn lied about those

conversations with Kislyak in his FBI interviews.

COOPER: So, how did Mueller and his team of investigators get Flynn to cooperate?

BROWN: Well, Flynn entered into a plea agreement. So, he pled guilty to a lesser charge of lying to the FBI in exchange for providing information to the prosecutors that the prosecutors clearly view as helpful in their investigation. Flynn has also, as we know, been concerned about possible legal exposure for his son over ties to Turkey. So, this plea deal could have also been a way for Flynn to protect his family, protect his son.

In a statement released today, he acknowledged wrongdoing and he said: My guilty plea and agreement to cooperate with the special counsel's office reflect a decision I made in the best interest of my family and of our country -- Anderson.

[20:10:07] COOPER: What could Flynn be facing if convicted?

BROWN: Well, he could face five years in prison. But today, the judge said he could impose a harsher or lighter sentence. However, since Flynn is cooperating, this is a plea deal, a harsher charge or sentence I should say would be unlikely.

And what happened today raises the question of, what's next? Now that Flynn's cooperating, we know the investigation continues, particularly in the obstruction of justice probe. Interviews are still happening.

And it's worth noting, Anderson, I believe we reported on your show, Mueller's team interviewed senior White House adviser Jared Kushner earlier this month, and it now appears they wanted to get his version of events before today's plea agreement, knowing what they already have from Flynn and other witnesses, and clearly, the version of these court documents today is what Mueller thinks is true, but it doesn't line up to what people at the White House are telling us. They are saying Kushner didn't direct Flynn in that December 22nd phone call -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Pam Brown, appreciate that. Thanks very much.

I want to bring in our legal team. CNN chief legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, former special counsel and Robert Mueller's former special assistant at the Justice Department, Michael Zeldin, Carrie Cordero, also formerly with the Department of Justice, she currently teaches law at Georgetown, and former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

So, Jeff, I mean, it's hard to overstate the significance of all this today, and the fact that Flynn is now cooperating with special counsel Mueller. I'm wondering just broad strokes, what stands out to you in these filings?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Let me just -- it's hard -- there have been so many discrete facts. Let me just try to point to one of them. You know, when James Comey was fired, he testified afterwards about his contacts with the president, President Trump. His constant requests to limit the investigation, you know, show your loyalty.

But on February 14th, it was the most extraordinary contact between Trump and Comey. There was a meeting in the Oval Office, and Trump shoed away the vice president, the attorney general, and it was just man-to-man with Comey. And what does -- what does Donald Trump say? He says, I want you to go easy on Michael Flynn. Flynn's a good guy. Leave Flynn alone.

Today, we learned maybe that why he was doing that, because Flynn knows a lot about the misconduct that was going on in the White House. And the fact that he was trying to cover up for Flynn is really I think an incredibly damaging piece of evidence about the president's culpability in all that's gone on here.

So, I think the juxtaposition of today's guilty plea and the encounter with Comey on February 14th is a really damning portrait.

COOPER: So, you're saying the idea that it was Kushner directing Michael Flynn, are you saying it's possible the president was directing Kushner to direct Flynn?

TOOBIN: Well, you know, again, I don't want to get ahead of the evidence. You know, Jared Kushner, why Jared Kushner is involved telling anyone what to do is kind of a mystery, given his complete ignorance and absence of experience and knowledge of any of the things he was dealing with, and continues to deal with in the White House. So, I don't believe that Jared Kushner just woke up one morning and decided to tell Michael Flynn what to do with the Russian ambassador.

But I do think that the issue of why the Trump administration, the Trump transition team, over and over again, was trying to cultivate Russia, was trying to ease the sanctions, was trying to make nice with Vladimir Putin. Very smart, according to the December 30th tweet by the president.

That question is still at the heart of this case. Why was the Trump administration and the Trump campaign so solicitous of Vladimir Putin?

COOPER: Michael, I mean, legally speaking, what could this ultimately mean for the president?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, it depends on what the president knew and when he knew it and what he did with that knowledge. The thing that's interesting to me about the information that was the core of Flynn's guilty plea today is that the lies that Mueller chose were lies that related to sanctions and lies that related to the U.N. Security Council, in language that tracks exactly the Logan Act. So I think that -- which makes it illegal for an individual private citizen to interfere in government affairs, which is what is alleged here and what alleged Kushner did.

So, these lies point directly to where Mueller is going as he investigates his core mandate of links and coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. And the people that are implicated by the lies in this indictment or information and what Mueller has to investigate are Sessions and Kushner and Manafort, still for addition lies for Flynn Jr., and for Don Jr.

[20:15:16] So, there are a whole host of people who the lies of this information implicate in possible criminal wrongdoing. So, for all of these people, they have to be wondering one, if they were interviewed by the FBI, what did they say?

And two, will they view -- will they be viewed as this guy was viewed, Flynn, because remember, Flynn is pleading guilty to a lie based on "I don't recall" as his answer. Not just an affirmative lie, I didn't do it. But also, I didn't recall. Anyone who has watched Jeff Sessions testify has heard him say that a hundred times.

Also in this information --

COOPER: So, Mueller -- that tells you that Mueller is willing to bring charges based on an "I don't know" as oppose to an outright lie?

ZELDIN: Exactly. And also what's interesting to me is that in this information, they specifically called Flynn a surrogate. And so, anyone who said they were unaware of surrogates interfacing with Russia now in Mueller's view would not be telling the truth, because this guy, Flynn, was called a surrogate by Mueller. So, if Sessions knew of these meetings, if any of those five people that knew put up on the screen that were at Mar-a-Lago knew of this and said no surrogates had dealings with the Russians, that in Mueller's view is untrue.

So, there's a lot of sort of traps in this information for people as Mueller goes forward. But it's clear that he sees this as a big part of his mandate of links and coordination.

COOPER: Carrie, let me ask you -- Mueller would not have made this deal with Flynn, and allowed Flynn to pled to what he pled, if Mueller didn't already know -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- if Mueller didn't already know what Flynn had to offer about other people up the food chain, correct?

CARRIE CORDERO, FORMER COUNSEL TO THE U.S. ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR NATIONAL SECURITY: No, that's exactly right. That's how this process works in terms of the information that Flynn would have had to already have provided to the special counsel's office so that they have a road map for what information he has available to him.

It's so important to note that Michael Flynn was charged with one count of making false statements. And yet in the information itself, the document that lays out the basis for that claim, there were several instances just in the four corners of that document indicating that he did not tell the truth to federal investigators on several points. And that in itself is just a small snapshot of the information that he would have already provided to investigators and the information that he knows and that they think he can provide in the future. So they charged him with one count matter, very small, discrete charge

that is only a tiny portion of the potential information that he can provide.

ZELDIN: Anderson, may I add one point to that?


ZELDIN: And I agree with that completely, because also in the statement of offense, there was a paragraph that says "and Flynn lied about his Foreign Agent Registration Act dealings." That was not part of the information, but it was part of the statement of offense.

So, they say he's lied about that. And that is that which implicates his son, because the Flynn intel group.

So, they've already set out another lie in the statement of information, but it's an uncharged lie. So we'll have to see whether or not that's the lie Michael Flynn, Jr. gets charged with as they move forward there.

COOPER: Ken, what stands out to you?

KEN CUCCINELLI, FORMER VIRGINIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, for one, and it just jumped out as the foreign registration, is that scares the bejeebers out of an awful lot of K Street, because that law has not been probably abided by and enforced very much. And now, a lot of people are looking at the potential to amend those filings. Paul Manafort started that for us.

But this continues that concern. It's kind of an unreported side story, not dealing with the central players here. But a lot of people are looking at in Washington, I'm sure.

With respect to today's action in court, look, Michael Flynn, especially in the transition, was in the middle of things in media race, as I would say in my high school and presuming that he's continuing to be cooperative when there's every reason to think that. Here's a guy who knows the conversation is going back and forth.

But the overarching political question, which really is the bigger one in this whole situation, and that is the potential for collusion with Russia. This is all after, of course, the campaign, and if Michael Flynn knows everything there is no know, and tells everything there is to tell, if the campaign still wasn't coordinating or colluding with the Russians, and there's no evidence that they were, then the political side of this is eventually going to fizzle away.

[20:20:12] That doesn't mean Michael Flynn isn't going to have a felony and Paul Manafort and so forth aren't going to have a trail of felonies for lying to the FBI. But so far, with respect to anything other than Manafort's distant financial problems, and failure to file, that's what we have.

COOPER: Michael?

TOOBIN: Can I -- I think --


COOPER: Jeff, just briefly. Go ahead.

TOOBIN: What Ken is ignoring, the already significant evidence of collusion. Donald Trump, Jr.'s e-mails to set up the meeting with the Russian lawyer in June. Repeated contacts with WikiLeaks about disclosing stolen e-mails. That is collusion.

Now, I don't know if it's a discrete crime, but to say that there's no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia is simply just not true.

COOPER: I've got to get a quick break in. We're going to continue the discussion. I'll also get reaction from the White House and the attempt to deflect attention onto the Obama administration, of all places.

Later, senators get ready to vote on a tax bill as it is still being written right now.


COOPER: Michael Flynn's guilty plea and cooperation with investigators could, of course, spare him jail time, does not, however, shield him from the charge of hypocrisy, nor the sting of karma.


MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We do not need a reckless president who believes she is a above the law. Lock her up. That's right. Yes, that's right. Lock her up!


COOPER: Lock her up.

General Flynn, that was at the Republican National Convention that dominated or nominated Donald Trump, and candidate, now President Trump has been at least for him remarkably quiet since the news broke of Flynn's guilty plea.

As for reaction to the White House, let's go to CNN's Jim Acosta who has new reporting on that tonight.

What did you learn, Jim?

ACOSTA: That's right, Anderson. Earlier today, you saw what the White House lawyer Ty Cobb was saying, that they're not feeling any anxiety over here at the White House as to what Michael Flynn will be telling the federal investigators with the special counsel's office.

[20:25:02] But, Anderson, I just got off the phone a few moments ago with a source close to the White House, a Republican, leading Republican who is close to this White House, who said -- described the president and his team as being in denial. They are, quote, totally in a bubble, according to the source, and that the president and his team should be treating what happened today like a red alert.

This source said that there have been conversations going on with the president's team, with multiple Republican sources outside the White House. And what is often told to these folks outside the White House is the president believes he's going to be exonerated and this will wrap up very soon.

But in the words of this source that I just got off the phone with, the feeling with this source is that they are just living inside of a bubble right now, that they're in denial as to what is happening with this Russia investigation. And that this source believes the White House at this point should be getting off of this posture of not feeling the pressure, not feeling the heat and should be treat thing like a "red alert." That is how the source described it tonight.

COOPER: Jim, I mean, do we know -- does the president talk with Jared Kushner about the investigation? I mean, I know technically nobody is supposed to do anything like that. Obviously, this White House is unlike any other. Do we know -- I mean, you talk about the mood as being in a bubble. Are they in this bubble together or separately in their own little bubbles?

ACOSTA: Well, I can tell you, you know, just based on my own reporting, Jared Kushner and other top officials in the administration have been in this sort of denial mode for months. I approached senior officials inside the West Wing back in February, and they had the same belief that there is nothing to the Russia investigation, and they continue to say that, as if you don't really see through the B.S. and the spin.

I will tell you, it was almost absurd to hear what this one senior White House official was saying earlier today, that they aren't feeling any anxiety inside the White House. We know from talking to multiple sources that they're growing weary, they're nervous. I talked to other source this evening who said they are nervous inside the White House, that they're worried about all of this.

And if you look at the letter from Ty Cobb, the statement from Ty Cobb earlier today describing Michael Flynn as a former Obama administration official, that is laughable, only because Barack Obama fired Michael Flynn. He warned President Trump, President-elect Trump not to bring Michael Flynn into his administration. And so, there's almost a sign of desperation that you pick up on, Anderson, when you talk to folks here at the White House, that they aren't dealing with reality as the source was telling me a few moments ago, that they are living inside of a bubble about this investigation -- Anderson.

COOPER: Jim Acosta, thank you very much, tonight from the White House.

Joining us now is CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash, also CNN political analyst Carl Bernstein and David Gergen. A young David Gergen, of course, served in the Nixon White House, among many others. Carl Bernstein, of course, investigated it.

Dana, you've been working your sources all day on multiple threads. I'm wondering what the fallout is from this? What are you hearing?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Shock. Certainly shock from those -- some of those inside the White House who I'm told were surprisingly maybe at this point not expecting something like this. And concern maybe further down the other end of Pennsylvania.

You have the Senate in session, as you mentioned. Senators are all around. They're preparing to vote on a tax bill. And there's concern about what the president is going to do next, frankly, concerned about how he's going to react to this, and whatever might come after that, as they're trying to focus on legislation.

With regard to the president, I am told from people who are familiar with the atmospherics inside, that he is maybe again not surprisingly in a foul mood, that he is not happy, and, Anderson, that sort of is related to the concern about the president, because as we know, as we've seen in recent history, when the president is in a foul mood, he tends to lash out. But sometimes that gets him in trouble.

COOPER: You know, Carl, for a president who's been lying about fake news and fake news this and fake news that, there's nothing fake about a guilty plea from your former national security adviser.

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This is the end for any sentient person I think of believing that this has anything to do with fake news. This is devastating.

What Mike Flynn represents is someone with a view of all of the dealings with Russia. He's the person who talked to the president of the United States, to the president's son-in-law, to the president's aides about Russia more than any other individual. He is going to tell and testify, whatever those conversations were, with numerous White House officials what in the world has been going on here, and what this cover-up has been about.

Whether or not it shows absolute collusion or not, we'll find out. Is this Watergate? We are not there yet, but this is a giant step that we have seen today, and Flynn is key. Is he John Dean?

It's funny, Bob Woodward and I were asking the question to each other today in a telephone call. Is he John Dean who lays out everything that is a conspiracy? We don't know. But he knows more perhaps than anyone, and this is a devastating event for the White House.


COOPER: David Gergen, I mean the notion here, Jim Acosta is saying that they're in a bubble of sorts. I keep coming back the fact that Robert Mueller knows everything already that Flynn has to offer and that's why he was willing to make this deal with him. That -- if you're in the White House, I would think that would be enormously troubling. DAVID GERGEN. FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER TO NIXON, FORD, REAGAN & CLINTON: Absolutely. It is a red alert for the White House. I'm sure they're feeling -- they're putting out fake story. You know, the two things we know for sure is what Donald Trump have been claiming all along that this was a witch-hunt, here is national security adviser, has pled guilty to a felony that can put him in a slammer for five years. That is not -- that's not a witch-hunt if they've actually found somebody who has said I violated the law.

And secondly, the whole notion that this is fake news, "The Washington Post" nail the story about Kislyak and the Flynn conversations way back in February. They said what happened in those conversations, they're all denied by the White House. Fake news, fake -- the fake has been coming out of the White House.

What I do think it suggests, and Carl was right about this, there are elements. The question I had today was, is Mike Flynn going to become John Dean? I don't think we quite know that yet, but we do know that what we're -- what -- certainly what being suggested is that there's been a massive cover-up. And the question is why?

You know, Flynn's conversations with Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, on their face, are fairly -- you know, they're not that troubling. They're not uncommon, so to speak. But the question is, why did he lie about them? He only lied because he was trying to protect something. He was trying to protect some inner secrets. And now he's going to jail over it.

So there are secrets to be unveil still. We don't know whether it goes as high as the President. We still have no idea about that. I think we ought to be cautious about that. We don't know indeed whether it's going to cover more than -- in fact, it's going to cover Kushner. But it clearly when your national security adviser is willing to lie like that, as he did, and now take the hit, there's something bigger going on, and we're going to -- and Mueller is going to get to the bottom of it. He seems to be doing a pretty professional job.

COOPER: Yes. And, Dana, you know, Papadopoulos was -- you know, lied about it as well in an interview.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And Papadopoulos was, you know, on the outer ring of the circle. You don't get more inner circle than Michael Flynn. He was not only the national security adviser for a month, but more importantly, he was in the transition, and he was on the President's plane. He was by the President's side day in and day out during the campaign.

And if there was any collusion, which was the origin of this Robert Mueller investigation, if there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, because of his role and because of his proximity to the then candidate, he should know and could know.

One of the things that I wanted to point out is I was talking tonight to a senior Republican on Capitol Hill who noted that when Michael Flynn put out his statement today, he said it was for his family and for his country. That struck this source and others on Capitol Hill saying, OK, well, what does he think he needs to protect this country from by giving this plea deal? That is something that raised some questions and maybe even some alarm bells inside the White House.


COOPER: Yes, go ahead.

BERNSTEIN: The key difference between Watergate and what we're witnessing now is that Watergate was not about President Nixon's family. And the family dynamic here is absolutely crucial, and may help explain some of the President's erratic behavior. But his family, both his son, Donald, Jr. and his son-in-law, are under serious investigation, are in the crosshairs of this investigation. And that's very different than Watergate because of the personal stakes, not just about the President of the United States and what he knew and when he knew it, but those of his children and his son-in-law as well.

And now, we also know that business questions are also under investigation. And that may figure in what this cover-up has been about in terms of Russia and what we saw today.

COOPER: Yeah. David Gergen, Carl Bernstein, Dana Bash, thank you very much.

Coming up, a lot more to cover on this. Reaction from two of our CNN political commentators, Ed Martin and Van Jones weigh in on what Michael Flynn's guilty plea signals for the investigation.

[20:35:04] What could be coming, next.


COOPER: As we mentioned tonight, as you might remember, former FBI Director James Comey, who was heading up the Russia investigation, was fired in part because, according to the President himself, "This Russia thing." Mr. Comey didn't say much today, but what he did say spoke volumes. He posted on Instagram and capturing the photo with a piece of the Old Testament's book of Amos, "Let justice roll down like waters and righteous like an ever-flowing stream."

Joining me now, two of our CNN political commentators, Ed Martin, author of "The Conservative Case for Trump", and Van Jones, author of "Beyond the Messy Truth".

So, Van, I mean Republicans have repeatedly disparage the entire Russia investigation saying there's nothing there. It's going to be wrapping up soon, echoing the President saying nothing to see here. One of President Trump's earliest and most vocal champions, you know, the man who advised him on foreign policy throughout the campaign, I mean, he installed as national security adviser, just copped a plea deal for lying to the FBI. Can Russians -- can Republicans with a straight face still claim nothing to see here?

VAN JONES, AUTHOR, "BEYOND THE MESSY TRUTH": Not if they know anything about the real world. I'm going to tell you something. I spent about 10 years of my life doing criminal justice work in Oakland. I'm just going to make this as plain as possible to the CNN viewers. When one of the main home boys turns snitch, a bunch of people about to go to jail. That's just how that works.

So this is a huge deal. It is a big deal. Whether it imperils Trump himself know -- Pac-Man of the game Pac-Man, this is Pac-Mueller. OK. He just got Flynn. He's not going to stop. He's got more folks coming. And the fact that he went after Flynn, who shoot ordinarily be a big fish, this is a big dude, with this little tiny, tiny charge, means that he's got bigger charges coming for bigger fish. This is a huge deal. You cannot pretend it's not, that one of your main home boys just turned snitch, all of y'all are in trouble.

COOPER: Ed, do you agree with that?

ED MARTIN, AUTHOR, "THE CONSERVATIVE CASE FOR TRUMP": Well, listen, I think of it a little bit differently. I think President Trump proved yet again, something he's known for his whole career. In fact he's really famous for it. This is the -- this guy Mike Flynn, surprisingly to many people that knew him, maybe not to Obama, that's what I'm hearing, but he lied to Mike Pence. He lied about that, and he was fired from his job. And he lied to the FBI, which even the most basic sort of bureaucrat knows you can't lie to the FBI.

[20:40:06] So, President Trump fired the guy within 25 days, realized he couldn't do the job. And I think, you know, it's very unfortunate. I think Van's right --

COOPER: Let me just -- wait, let me just stop you there. He was informed Flynn lied, and you just said 25 days later --

MARTIN: No, no, no, 25 -- no, no, no, I'm sorry, I misspoke -- no, I misspoke, Anderson. I don't let that hang out there. He -- what's his name, Flynn only worked for 25 days as national security adviser because --

COOPER: Right. But -- OK, so the White House was informed and two weeks went by and they kept him in the job until he was only fired because "The Washington Post" had the story. For a guy --


MARTIN: Yes, the timeline, Anderson, I guess you're right. I mean we're watching a lot of things across the country with people who are accused of something, whether it's Matt Lauer or anybody else, and there's generally some getting to the bottom of it. And then firing -- when you fire a national security adviser four weeks into your presidency, that's not a very good optic. So I think he did.

And more importantly, to Van's point, he advance, put his finger on the problem. It's not Pac-Man, it's not Pac-Mueller. It's a zombie prosecutor who is, if he is going beyond what is normal, which I believe he is, I've said from the beginning, this is not -- it should not be about what is the lies by Flynn. What's happened is, this guy Mueller is trying to overturn an election now, because he thinks -- (CROSSTALK)

COOPER: So somebody should be able to lie to a federal prosecutor and get away with it?

MARTIN: No, no. Nobody -- of course not. But, at this point, what is the purpose of an ever expanding prosecutor as Van -- I thought Van was going to say this, if you get a federal prosecutor who decides he doesn't like you, you got a lot of trouble, and it doesn't matter what the truth is. He'll find out you filed your taxes 40 years ago.

COOPER: So, Van, is that what's happening here?

JONES: Listen, it's amazing to me to hear conservatives now concerned about prosecutorial abuse and, oh my god, sometimes prosecutors have too much power doing stuff. We've been screaming about that in the hood for years. Hold on a second.

I don't want for us to go with this idea that, you know, Flynn is kind of minor guy. It turned out he was a bad guy. They got rid of him. Nobody was closer to Trump than Flynn for the whole campaign. He was closer to Trump than Melania. This guy -- he couldn't have been closer to Trump if his last name was Trump. This was a close, close insider the whole time.

And then after the election, he apparently is, based on his own confession, tried to set up essentially an illegal kind of shadow government in violation of the Logan Act to implement a program with the Russians. Why? He just suddenly woke up some morning and thought that was a good idea? And then afterwards, the President's only obsession, the only person he's loyal to in the world is Flynn, begging plea, leave Flynn alone to the FBI? There's something going on here that is big. And this -- the idea that he's now going to spill his soul, spill his guts, already has, should have people very nervous.

So you can pretend, oh, he's an Obama official, they got rid of him, that's not reality.

COOPER: Ed, final thought?

MARTIN: Anderson, I thought that Van was going around trying to find common ground. Let's find common ground, Van. I agree with you, and as a conservative like me and Rand Paul, and others, I have said that the federal government is not my boss, Phyllis Schlafly, we have said prosecutors are out of control. I agree with you. And I've said that about Mueller and Comey from the beginning. So that's common ground.

The second thing is, Van Jones, you said it before, nobody thinks that the election was moved by the Russians, that the Russian investigation is not a serious thing. So now we do have bad actors, I agree. Mike Flynn has violated the law. He should go away for it. But at this point, we're tying up the government --

COOPER: It does seem like the President thinks it's not -- the Russia investigation is not a real thing. I mean I believe he said that repeatedly, no?

MARTIN: Well, I think he says what most of us say, which is it's a prosecutor in search of a problem. The election was not changed --

COOPER: No, he says it's a hoax, it's fake news. I mean that's what he said. Anyway, we've got to leave it there. We'll continue -- obviously, we're going to be talking about this for days to come.

Ed Martin, thank you. Van Jones, as well.

Up next, a reaction from Congress. We're going to hear from Judiciary Committee members and Richard Blumenthal ahead.


[20:41:41] COOPER: The President is not only repeatedly referred to the Russia investigation as fake news, a witch-hunt, or ruse, and a hoax, but also, according to a reporting in "The New York Times," pressured top Senate Republicans to end the investigation into Russian meddling in the election. Given today's news, there's no doubt the news is reel and Robert Mueller's investigation continues as do those in Congress.

Joining me now is Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democratic from Connecticut and a member of this Judiciary Committee.

Sir Blumenthal, you called today's guilty plea by Michael Flynn the tip of the iceberg for not only him but for President Trump. Can you explain what you mean by that?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, (D) CONNECTICUT: This guilty plea, an acknowledgement of criminal culpability, is a shattering moment for the Trump presidency. And the reason is quite simply that there is an abundance of information that Michael Flynn can share about the campaign, and its possible collusion with Russia, about the transition team and the conversations with Russians before President-elect Trump took the oath. And afterward, while he was the President's chief national security adviser, and it goes to Russian collusion and obstruction of justice.

Remember that Jim Comey was fired because he wouldn't drop his investigation of Michael Flynn. Now that investigation has produced this criminal plea and it will lead to more evidence besides the firing of obstruction of justice.

COOPER: Do you think it will lead directly to President Trump?

BLUMENTHAL: It will lead directly and intractably to the Oval Office, certainly to people at the top levels of the White House. And it implicates President Trump certainly. Whether there's enough evidence to take further action involving the President is still to be determined. We have a distance to go.

But here's what is absolutely certain. This moment is the kind of Watergate moment. What does he know and when did he know it? And Michael Flynn has very direct credible knowledge and he has to tell it all, tell it truthfully and completely for this deal to stick.

COOPER: The new CNN reporting that President Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, obviously was directing Flynn to contact the Russian ambassador, I'm wondering what your reaction to that? Because it does run countered what the White House has been saying, that Michael Flynn was more of a freelancer. And I guess the other question is, does Jared -- did Jared Kushner take his orders from the President directly?

BLUMENTHAL: That's a key question, Anderson, because clearly from the Special Prosecutor's statement of the offense, his formal charging and plea document, Michael Flynn was reporting, he was accountable, and he was directed by senior officials in the transition. One of them apparently Jared Kushner, the other possibly K.T. McFarland. No questions that the transition team was involved.

So your question is not only directly relevant to Jared Kushner, but also to Vice-President Michael Pence, because he was very closely involved in the transition team. And that's one of the reasons why we've written him a letter yesterday before this guilty plea, asking for facts from his office about what he knew about Flynn's conflicts of interest and potential illegality.

[20:50:06] COOPER: In terms of in terms of the Senate Judiciary investigation, what does -- what is today's news mean for the work that you're doing?

BLUMENTHAL: The Judiciary Committee now has to move forward with legislation that will protect the special prosecutor against any kind of political interference or firing. And that legislation, which I've introduced, is pending before the committee. There have been hearings. There should be a markup. It should move to the floor. It should be passed. So there's no question that the special prosecutor will be protected against Trump's threats and bullying.

Second, the Judiciary Committee should now issue subpoenas for Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr., testimony to be presented under oath in public and all the documents that may be relevant. The Judiciary Committee has delayed inexcusable, in my view, its continuing investigation into obstruction of justice directly relevant to the plea today.

COOPER: Senator Richard Blumenthal, busy day, I appreciate your time.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

COOPER: Up next, we'll get reaction to Michael Flynn's guilty plea from someone who served along side him in the Army and knows him well, the then General Mark Hertling.

And breaking news, also on the tax bill, the Republicans say they now have the votes. They're trying to get it done tonight. An update on that, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: Back to our breaking news tonight, former national security adviser Michael Flynn's guilty plea in the Russia probe and the resulting fallout.

Lieutenant General Mark Hertling served in the Army with Flynn and knows him well. He joins me now.

General Hertling, I'm wondering what you made of his guilty plea.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Two things, Anderson. The emotions kind of go back and forth between embarrassed for the Army because this is a guy who was at the senior ranks. There's only about 20 or so three-star generals, the same rank I held in the Army, and Mike Flynn was one of them. So because he's in that position, he's given a special trust and confidence by the government and the military and the soldiers that he leads.

So the first part is being embarrassed by what happened today, and then the second part had to do with the emotion of being furious. When he came out with his statement and started off by saying, hey, I've served 33 years honorably and, you know, served in combat for five years, yes, well, that's interesting, it's also not important given the situation he's in right now. He went against the Constitution of the United States.

General officers, soldiers are held to higher standards. We are taught throughout our career to honor the values of things like duty, honor, country, integrity, respect, loyalty, selfless service, and America expects that of its general officer ranks because they give us their sons and daughters to defend the country.

[20:55:14] So when you have an individual who lies, who serves one individual as opposed to the Constitution of the country, it just truthfully makes me a little bit furious.

COOPER: It's also -- I mean, there's no small bit of irony when it was General Flynn who was leading chants about lock her up. And I know we talked about that during the campaign and I remember reading there was a lot of reporting from military people who had served with him who were kind of surprised by the role he took on the campaign, the public role, and things like chanting lock her up.

HERTLING: Yes. There's a debate, it's a continuous and ongoing debate within the military about how much do retired officers or NCOs get involved in politics. Well, it's one thing to support a candidate or speak highly of a candidate or actually do programs like some people have done. I'm tempted to be apolitical, you know that on this program, but sometimes you get sucked one way or another because of the actions of political candidates.

But in this case, Mike Flynn went over the top. And that was the first indicator that something was desperately wrong with this guy. And I think it proved a lot of people -- it generated quite a bit of discussion in both the retired and the active officer corps about this individual being so vehement on stage and doing something that one could say was unconstitutional in the way he approached this. COOPER: I mean what happened to Michael Flynn? I mean he did have -- I mean correct me if I'm wrong, he had a distinguished career, people talked about the work he did, I think it was in Afghanistan with General McChrystal. What happened to him?

HERTLING: Yes, I don't want to say. I have my own thoughts on that, but I just think that something went wrong toward the end of his career, the demons got a hold of him. And for one reason or another, (INAUDIBLE) and vengeance took over where in the past there had been professionalism.

But here's the thing, Anderson. I mean there's a great movie, "Saving Private Ryan" and at the very end of that movie, Tom Hanks grabs his savior and he says to him, earn this. And what he's talking about is continuing service to the country, do things every day that your soldiers who give their lives and sacrifice on the battlefield will be proud of you. And that's something that, for whatever reason, and it's unfortunate because Mike Flynn did have a good career to a point. It's unfortunate now because he didn't earn it. He stopped earning it, and that's really sad for many of us that wear the cloth of the country.

COOPER: General Hertling, appreciate your time. Thank you.

HERTLING: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: We have other breaking news out of Washington tonight. There are big moves in the Senate on the GOP tax plan a bill that wasn't even completely written as of a few hours ago. Phil Mattingly joins from Capitol Hill with the latest.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Anderson, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell now on the floor. It looks like the process is about ready to get kicked off, but the big issue here is it's been a remarkable day. Senate Republicans actually have the votes for this plan this morning, what they didn't have was a bill. They've spent the last five, six, seven, eight hours trying to draft a bill to match up with the deals they made with Republican senators to get the votes to pass this plan.

Now, put this into perspective. This is a historic moment, the Senate passing a tax overall. Something that hasn't been done in 31 years, moving it just one step closer to a major domestic achievement for President Trump and yet, for hours throughout the course of the day, that he haven't actually had final language on what they agreed to.

Senate Democrats attacked this idea. They obtained a draft iteration of this bill that had hand-written notes on the side of it, making changes by handwriting, waving it on the Senate floor. That's the attack line right now.

But here is the reality, Anderson, Republicans have the vote. Senator Jeff Flake, he came on board because of an expensing provision. Senator Susan Collins, she came on board because she want to -- she got what she wanted on the state and local tax deduction. Senator Ron Johnson, he's now happy with the pass through legislation. That means they have 51 senators in the affirmative. All they need to do now is vote on it.

I think one more interesting element here, Anderson, throughout the course of the day, if you were paying attention last night, this looked like it might actually stall out. The reason, Senator Bob Corker, the issue, deficits. Well, Republican leaders made the clear calculation today. They had the votes to just not care anymore about Senator Bob Corker. They tried to bring him along, his issues were maintained. Senator Bob Corker will oppose this bill but that won't be enough to sink it. The deals they made with other senators put them in position to get this pass. The real question now is when and perhaps what's actually going to be in that final piece of legislation, Anderson.

COOPER: Phil Mattingly, thanks very much.

And thanks for watching "360". Time to hand things over to Jake Tapper in Washington. "The Lead" starts now.