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Michael Flynn Charged With Making False Statement to the FBI; Michael Flynn Expected to Plead Guilty to Lying to the FBI. Aired 9:30-10a ET
Aired December 1, 2017 - 09:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[09:30:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, sure.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was Michael Flynn conveying to the Russians that the incoming president who has not president yet, who has not been inaugurated had a different view with the current president of the United States has made against the foreign power.
BERMAN: It's a lie about Russia also which is the same thing that George Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to. A lie about Russia and again, the difference in the stature of these two figures who have now pleaded guilty could not be larger even if you buy the president's assumption or assertion that George Papadopoulos is a nobody here.
Errol Louis is with me here now as well. And again, I think that perspective is necessary here. The president's National Security adviser at least for a few days pleading guilty to lying to the FBI. The president's one-time campaign chairman has been charged with a crime. These are major figures.
ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: These are major figures.
BERMAN: Major associates to then-candidate, now president Trump.
LOUIS: That's exactly right. This is not a nothing burger, this isn't fake news. This is as real as it gets.
And one of the most important parts of what you read, I'm glad you read it, John, is that this happened -- the lying to the FBI to which we're going to get a guilty plea apparently within the hour, happened on the other side of the inauguration.
BERMAN: January 24th.
LOUIS: He's the sitting National Security adviser, he has access to all of the secrets. He is the first person to talk to the president every day to give him the situation around the world and here he is lying to the FBI about what was going on during the transition when apparently he is, let's use the word, colluding with the Russian Government to take actions or not take actions.
You know now why he was doing those things, we're going to all be asking and we'll all be trying to find out and perhaps it will come out in the course of not today's proceeding but subsequent legal proceedings. But, this is very, very serious.
BERMAN: Shimon Prokupecz, our CNN law and justice correspondent with us as well now. Shimon, Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, a former Russian ambassador to the United States, sort of a, you know, a Forrest Gump- like figure in the sense that he was been everywhere, you know, during the campaign and then the transition in the early stage of the Trump administration. Whenever the idea of a relationship between, you know, Trump world and Russia came up. Talk to me about him.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN LAW AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's important here, John. And I wanted to make that point because Kislyak is at the center of so much of this investigation. We know other people that are part of the Trump -- were part of the Trump campaign and part of the Trump orbit have met with Kislyak, have talked to Kislyak. Jared Kushner, the attorney general Jeff Sessions. And remember, there have been so many stories about this figure, who Kislyak was, what he represented to the Russian Government and how certain people in the U.S. Intelligence Community and law enforcement viewed him essentially as a spy, someone who is working for the Russian president and trying to infiltrate the government, trying to infiltrate the campaign to get information. And that seems to be what alerted so many of the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement during the transition.
And here we have, you know, a key point of why did the FBI feel the need to go and question Michael Flynn about this. And then more importantly now is what prompted him to lie about that conversation, you know, allegedly according to these charges.
So this is again Sergey Kislyak, the guy who's been at the center of so much in this investigation back again, you know, sort of causing more problems for this campaign. Seems to still be a key figure in this investigation.
BERMAN: You know, one other key historical point here. It is the Michael Flynn investigation that James Comey, the fired FBI director said that President Trump asked him to back off from. An investigation that has now led, apparently, to a guilty plea.
You know, President Trump according to James Comey asked him to back off an investigation into the fact that his National Security adviser had lied to the FBI about meetings with the Russians.
Shimon, thank you very much. I want to bring in Jonathan Martin on that point as well, because Jonathan, your reporting overnight, you know, different but related -- you reported overnight that the president has been pushing key members of the Senate to back off the Russia investigation.
JONATHAN MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. So we have a story today in the paper, the Times, about how this president has been consumed by the Russia investigation.
And this summer when he was particularly incense over the cloud hanging over his head on Russia, he had multiple conversations with Senate Republicans including the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, including Roy Blunt of Missouri who is also on the committee, and including Mitch McConnell himself. Basically saying can't you guys bring this to a quick end. Which is extraordinary intervention, John, for a president, a member of the executive branch to sort of weigh in like that personally with the members of the legislative branch who are conducting the very investigation of which he, his family, and his staff are all part of.
[09:35:19] You know, senators downplayed the interaction saying that the president is just sort of new to politics, doesn't quite understand the nature of what he was doing. But it gets at this larger issue, John, we are talking about this morning, which is the first 10 months of a presidency there has been under a cloud of this Russia issue. And the question of what he and his family and his advisers did during the campaign last year. And now we learn even in the days and weeks after the campaign came to end, this is a key point.
Michael Flynn was charged with lying to the FBI, John, on January 24th. That's four days after the inauguration of the president. What we have here is a sitting National Security adviser in the White House, lying to the FBI allegedly.
That's extraordinary to consider that. It sort of tells you how close this is getting now into the White House itself.
BERMAN: You say allegedly lying to the FBI. It may not be allegedly at 10:31 Eastern Time today because Michael Flynn will appear in a federal court and we believe plead guilty to of lying to the FBI in these charges.
Jonathan, standby with us right now. I want to go to the White House. Our Joe Johns is there. Joe, I don't know if the White House had any notion this was coming. We learned about it first, you know, 20 minutes ago. Any reaction yet this morning?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: It's not clear that the White House did know that this was coming. However, I must say that over the past 72 hours or so, many of us have noted that there appeared to be a lot of upset here at the White House. The president seemingly on edge, doing things that seemed even more erratic than usual, of course, including some of his tweets.
But I think it's also important to point out that the issues with this man, Michael Flynn, go all the way back, again, to the end of the campaign and also very important to point out in context that President Obama himself said to have warned incoming President TRUMP about the dangers of naming Michael Flynn as National Security adviser.
If you remember, it was also the deputy attorney general who testified that she, too, believed or suggested that it could be possible that Michael Flynn was compromised by the Russians due to, in no small part, his contacts with the ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. So, this is perhaps the most on the record open source false statement that you can find involving Michael Flynn, certainly because it's the reason he left the White House.
If you remember, his telling the vice president Pence that there essentially were no contact with Russia when in fact he had spoken with Sergey Kislyak. So, Michael Flynn has been the center of so much of this investigation. And we haven't even gotten down to the issues involving Turkey and all the other questions about his being a foreign agent and not having properly documented that with the federal government.
Hopefully, we can learn a little bit more about that today. So far the White House has not commented on the situation with Michael Flynn. We have been reaching out repeatedly of course to Ty Cobb, the president's lawyer who handles some of his communications and haven't yet heard from them.
Their argument, and it's important to say also, has always been while there's a great swirl involving various players in the Russia investigation, the argument has always been that it doesn't reach all the way to the Oval Office. It doesn't reach all the way to the president of the United States.
Nonetheless, Michael Flynn was very close to Mr. Trump during the campaign, and certainly that's something that bears more questioning. John, back to you.
BERMAN: Yes, the National Security adviser to the president works awfully close to the Oval Office. Doesn't mean the president is necessarily connected, but the proximity there, you know, could not be closer. Joe Johns, stand by.
Again, the breaking news this morning, if you are just joining us, a major development in the Russia investigation. At 10:30 this morning, the president's former National Security adviser, Michael Flynn, will appear at a federal court. We believe he will plea guilty to lying to the FBI about meetings he held with the former Russian ambassador. We know he is charged with lying to the FBI about meetings that he had with the former Russian ambassador.
[09:40:03] Joining me now is the former assistant director of the FBI, Tom Fuentes. Tom, thanks so much for being with us.
Lying to the FBI, lying during an interview with agents. This is a charge you see in an investigation like this. Discuss the significance of this type of charge.
TOM FUENTES, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, John, the charge is significant. We've seen people like Martha Stewart go to prison for only being convicted in an investigation of lying to the FBI. Now, when the FBI, during an official investigation asks someone if they will be interviewed, they don't have to consent to be interviewed. They have the right to say nothing. But if they do talk and it is an official interview and the FBI agent or agents have properly identified themselves, showed their credentials that they're agents of the FBI, told the subject that it's an official inquiry, it's not just a social visit. At that point if the person chooses to talk they need to tell the truth. And if they don't tell the truth, it's a felony. It's Title 18 Section 1001, and many people get caught up in that.
So it's interesting here when you have political figures like a Michael Flynn at that point, they're almost in a position that they can't refuse in a sense to be interviewed or to give information. So -- but if they do, they have to be honest.
BERMAN: So Tom, I'm going to ask you to look at this and not speculate but analyze with your expertise. Does the fact that he's pleading guilty to these narrow counts tell you anything about how he may or may not be cooperating with the special counsel on other matters?
FUENTES: Well, certainly he could be cutting a deal with the special counsel's office, the Department of Justice that he'll plead to this charge in view of cooperating against other charges or potential charges, and against other people. So, he could be cooperating. We don't know that yet.
And then they placed this charge just, you know, basically, to place it over his head in the meantime to see if he does cooperate and if his cooperation is sincere and the information he gives during the cooperation is honest. So, you know, that will remain to be seen. But the charge by itself is serious enough that he has cause to be worried about this charge. But there's way more to this investigation than we know about, and we also don't know if it's strictly going to come down to, you know, the potential collusion or like in the Manafort case that's going to include other things that Flynn may have been doing for several years before he was even involved in the Trump campaign.
BERMAN: All right, Tom Fuentes, stand by for us. Right now, I'm joined by CNN's Chris Cillizza, Politics editor-at-large, political analyst extraordinary. And Chris, this is a big deal today.
You have the president's former National Security adviser apparently pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about Russia. Russia of course is something that President Trump says is nothing, it is a distraction. Yet this investigation now has yielded some very significant charges.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Yes. So I think a couple things, John. Number one, the charge is significant. The fact that it's one charge is significant and the possibility of a guilty plea or cooperation is significant.
Michael Flynn from the start was an inner circle Donald Trump member. He cannot be dismissed as Trump tried to dismiss Paul Manafort as the guy who helped me out for awhile. Obviously, Manafort did more than that but Flynn is a core Trump player.
He was the guy who introduced Donald Trump at all big events on the campaign trail. He's the guy who has essentially given carte blanche to choose what role he wanted in the White House. And he is a guy who even after Donald Trump fired him for lying to Mike Pence about his relationship and conversations with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Trump still kind of spoke wistfully of Mike Flynn.
(INAUDIBLE) he said to James Comey, he's a good guy, you know, what can we do here. So, if Flynn pleads guilty, and it winds up only being the one charge, and that's an F, right. If Flynn pleads guilty (INAUDIBLE) on the one charge, there is a very strong likelihood that Flynn is now helping, cooperating with the Mueller investigation which is important.
And it's as important, again, if that happens that Mueller was willing to cut a deal with Flynn because then he believes Flynn has information to give about someone further up the chain. Now, who is that? Don't know. But a reminder, Flynn is pretty high up the chain.
BERMAN: Yes, you don't get much higher than the National Security adviser in the White House. You don't get much higher than the chief foreign policy adviser during the campaign, a man that spoke at the convention, a man who was running president-elect Donald Trump's security briefings. And during the transition, this guy, you know, is not the coffee boy, Chris Cillizza.
[09:45:05] CILLIZZA: No. And look, I think it's important to say, we can debate George Papadopoulos' relative role. Was he just sort of a guy they put on a foreign policy team to have a name and he sat in on one meeting and nobody knew he was and it didn't matter. Maybe, right.
But he's the only other person who's plead guilty in this with ties to the Russia investigation. Another important thing with Manafort, Manafort's charges are not related to Russian dealings, they are related to Ukraine.
Now, again, I keep saying this. This is if Michael Flynn pleads guilty. But if he does and if --
BERMAN: Chris? Chris?
CILLIZZA: Yes, sir.
BERMAN: Let me interrupt you on that because I keep checking my computer screen because we're getting developments in fast and furious. We can now report that Michael Flynn is expected to plead guilty. He is expected to plead guilty. Sorry, continue.
CILLIZZA: Look, I think we all expected that when we saw the one charge. I think what this tells you is that this now -- this was always serious for Donald Trump and his inner circle, candidly. This is even more serious now.
There is no way that you can dismiss Michael Flynn and a guilty plea to lying to the FBI about his dealings with the Russian ambassador. That's what we know happened. You cannot dismiss that as nothing, Democrats bitter about the election.
This is a special counsel's office convened by the Trump justice department, he didn't like it, but convened by the Trump's Justice Department, he didn't like it but convened by the Trump's Justice Department who has now (INAUDIBLE) a guilty plea. Mike Flynn is saying I did this, I misled the FBI about my dealings with the Russian ambassador.
CILLIZZA: It's very hard to turn that somehow to being a political thing. This is big trouble and it's what will -- what does Flynn know about whom, I think is our next question?
BERMAN: What did he know about whom, what kind of deal was cut. Again, Michael Flynn due in court in 44 minutes. This is all happening this morning so don't go anywhere. These developments are coming in by the second here.
Shimon Prokupecz, CNN law and justice reporter with us right now again. Michael Flynn, the beginning of Michael Flynn's relationship to the Russia investigation insofar as it creates a major problem for President Trump has to do with the issue of obstruction.
Was the president, Shimon, trying to obstruct justice when he asked James Comey to back off the investigation in the Michael Flynn?
PROKUPECZ: That's exactly right and that investigation is still ongoing. And I think also, John, it's important to note that you have another charge of someone involved with the campaign, with the transition team, who is now charged with lying to the FBI. And that also goes to the heart of any obstruction investigation.
Why are people lying about this? Why were people consistently lying about their contacts with Russia? So far, we have not seen any direct charges with collusion or anything else associated with the Russians. But you keep seeing these charges of lying. This is now the second person charged with lying to he FBI.
And again, it all centers around Russian contact. And the question as investigators -- certainly investigators on Mueller's team keep asking really is why, why are people continuing and have lied about this contact? And it clearly shows that this is all playing into the obstruction investigation.
There's no clearer sign now than having two people who, you know, you can say what you want to say about Papadopoulos being a coffee boy, but, you know, even coffee boy it's still relevant that he also lied to the FBI about his contact with the Russians. Now you have a senior person, a senior-level official who was with the White House who lied to the FBI about his contact with Sergey Kislyak. And, you know, we are expecting Michael Flynn to admit to this later, you know, within the next hour when he appears in court.
So this is a huge and significant deal, certainly into the obstruction investigation.
BERMAN: All right, Shimon, stand by for a second. Right now, we have a live shot with a picture right now I want to show you from outside the courthouse in Washington. Let's put that picture up. There it is. That is where we expect to see very shortly former National Security adviser, Michael Flynn, who we understand will plead guilty to charges of lying to the FBI about meetings that he had, conversations that he had with the former Russian ambassador.
That guilty plea expected within the hour, and we do expect we might see Flynn within the hour as well. So we will keep our eye on this picture throughout the next several minutes.
Joining me now by phone is CNN Legal Analyst Paul Callan.
[09:50:00] And Paul, I want to get your take on the idea of this guilty plea. A guilty plea on two counts of lying to the FBI. What does that tell you about where the special counsel is?
PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST (via-telephone): Well, it means he's made substantial progress in his investigation. He's obviously moving closer to the White House. But also I think the important thing is, when a plea being taken by the general, that's a very solid indication that he's probably been offered a deal of some kind, and he's cooperating.
And if he's cooperating, who would he be cooperating against? It certainly feels like it would be other higher up officials in the White House. So, I think this is really an important development. And we have to remember, we're talking about the former National Security adviser to the president of the United States. So this is a very, very big deal.
BERMAN: All right, Paul, stand by for one second.
CNN's Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto is with me again. And Jim, I understand you just spoke to the lawyer for Michael Flynn Jr., and this is not insignificant because he may play into this. Explain.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question. Michael Flynn Jr. is also under legal scrutiny because Michael Flynn Jr. was deeply involved in Michael Flynn Sr.'s businesses. When he left government, he started a consultancy and it was for this company where he was doing for profit, paid work for not only Russia but also Turkey. And there is still open questions about one, why he didn't report some of that income, why he didn't report as required by law that he was acting as what's called a foreign agent, meaning someone working for a foreign government here in the U.S. And his son was chief of staff to him in that business and involved in that business and therefore under legal scrutiny as well.
We reported just a couple of weeks ago that Michael Flynn Sr. was extremely worried about his son's legal jeopardy and that was a possible motivator in any consideration into cooperating in the investigation. Now, I spoke to Michael Flynn Jr.'s lawyer Barry Coburn, he is not commenting this morning on whether there is an indictment or any cooperation coming from his son. But this is a factor and we know, for instance, John Berman, that Flynn's wife was making it very clear to her husband, Flynn Sr. that she was concerned about her son's legal fate as well.
We don't know if Michael Flynn Sr., General Flynn is cooperating with this investigation. We do know that his son is under legal scrutiny and we know that personally, friends and family members have said that that's a factor in his mind, that he wants to do whatever he can for his son's legal position as well.
That will be something to watch in these coming hours and days. How is Michael Flynn Jr. involved in these proceedings going forward.
BERMAN: I want to make one thing clear he is going to plead guilty to one count of lying to the FBI, but lying twice to the FBI. So it's one count but two separate lies.
Jim Sciutto, we've been talking to you, you spoke to Michael Flynn Jr.'s lawyer as we said. Did he give you any sense if they are somehow relieved? I suppose that if there was a deal and they were willing to talk about it, Michael Flynn Jr. and his lawyer might be relieved?
SCIUTTO: We don't know because of course there could be a sealed or unsealed indictment or still negotiations or still investigation that involves Michael Flynn Jr. We know and we've reported that there is legal -- there are legal questions surrounding Michael Flynn Jr. so we don't know yet the resolution of those questions. But we do know that for Michael Flynn Sr., that was very much a factor for him and of course, it would be.
This is his son, his son who is father to his grandson, you know. You know, those personal motivations very powerful in cases like this. So we knew even before today that was something that was part of his consideration as he approaches his own legal questions and jeopardy going forward.
So that certainly is something to watch going forward. What is the legal status of Michael Flynn Jr. in this case?
BERMAN: All right, Jim, stand by for one second. If I still have Paul Callan on the phone, Paul, I want to ask you a question, again, about this guilty plea on one count of two lies to the FBI.
Paul, put yourself, you know, in the mind of the special counsel and the army of attorneys that he has working in that office. Would they stop with just this one count of lying with Michael Flynn? Would this be enough for them on its face? Does it look like this or on its face does it look like this is something -- a means to a different end?
CALLAN (via-telephone): It looks -- it actually looks like it is a means to continue a cooperation agreement. Reportedly there are two counts of lying to the FBI. Now these are serious counts, John. Each count, by the way, carries a five-year penalty and in theory, you could get consecutive sentences under these counts, so he could be looking at 10 years in prison. [09:55:05] So that gives prosecutors substantial leverage over him to require him to continue cooperating with them. I think that you see only two counts being handed down because that gives them sufficient leverage.
Now, that doesn't mean whatever cooperation agreement likely exists if it breaks down, they could -- they may have other counts holding in abeyance that they could lodge. But this certainly gives them a substantial leverage as the case goes forward.
BERMAN: All right, Paul, standby. Joining us now is Susan Hennessey, a CNN legal analyst, former lawyer at the National Security Agency. You know, Susan, first, your reaction to this news?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Right. So this is certainly incredibly significant for a lot of different members of the Trump team. It sort of is the slam dunk that we've talked over the course of the week about whether or not it was clear that Michael Flynn was cooperating or not at this point. This really does kind of put the nail in the coffin that he is probably cooperating because he's only pleading to a single count of lying to the FBI twice.
One of the things that's most significant in the actual charging documents that DOJ has released is the revelation that he did in fact asked Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak to delay the response to sanctions, that the sanctions that the Obama administration had placed in response to Russian election meddling. So really the accusation here is not just that he lied to the FBI but the underlying conduct is that Mike Flynn, you know, reached out to a hostile foreign adversary in a period of time in which President Obama was president of the United States, in order to essentially undercut a major U.S. policy in response to election interference.
Now that opens up a lot of questions about whether or not he was acting with Donald Trump's knowledge or at his request. But this really is very, very serious revelation.
BERMAN: Again, it would be a violation of the Logan Act even though, you know, if he did pressure the Russian ambassador for something the Logan Act is not something that has ever really been prosecuted before.
You said something right at the very beginning Susan and I want to emphasize here. You said only pleading guilty to this one count of two separate lies to the FBI.
Now we know that lying to the FBI can carry major consequences. Martha Stewart went to jail for that. But in the context of the overall Russia investigation and everything we know that Michael Flynn has been alleged to have been connected to. It is an only here, only this. Explain.
HENNESSEY: Right. So we know that Michael Flynn has possible exposure on a lot of different fronts. So one is incomplete disclosures with his security clearance, an SF-86 security clearance form. It's a felony to lie on those forms and there's been some questions about whether or not Flynn had fully disclosed the nature of his foreign contacts and also being paid by foreign governments.
There's the question about whether or not Michael Flynn had sought permission from the Pentagon to receive payments from a foreign government. That's not a criminal issue but also a serious matter for him. And there's of course the issue of sort of lying to the FBI.
There's also this whole other bucket of questions related to his conduct surrounding Turkish Cleric Fethullah Gulen and whether or not he possible even plotted to remove him from the United States in some kind of kidnapping plot.
So really there are a full range of sort of possible exposures here running from kind of some serious paperwork issues, essentially, all the way to sort of, you know, major kidnapping sort of type crimes. So the fact that really what we're seeing here are charges based way, way at the end of the spectrum, you know, a count of lying -- two counts of lying, that really does indicate that he's pleading to lesser charges considering the full range of possibilities here.
BERMAN: And remember, it was at the beginning of this week that we learned that lawyers for Michael Flynn told lawyers for the president that they couldn't cooperate anymore. This puts this in a different perspective, Susan?
HENNESSEY: Right. So one of the sort of speculations whenever that information had came out was that was an indication that Flynn was going to cooperate, right. That he had withdrawn from this joint information sharing or joint defense agreement because he was looking to make a deal.
And so we've -- it had been earlier reported about maybe a week or two ago that Mueller's team had enough to charge both General Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jr. And so the period of time between sort of knowing that Mueller had enough to charge them and actually seeing the charges I think we now have the explanation which is that they were negotiating some kind of an agreement that clearly included pleading only to these charges and not the others.
BERMAN: All right, Susan Hennessey, standby because we have a lot to discuss.
Just before 10:00 a.m. on the East Coast right now, one of the things I want to add here, even though we expect Michael Flynn to plead guilty in a half hour. Last time the special counsel brought charges we were surprised by the George Papadopoulos news as well.
We know that Special Counsel Robert Mueller, you know, maybe likes surprises. So we're watching that very, very closely. Standby, we have a lot to discuss here.
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