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Michael Flynn Pleads Guilty to Lying to FBI. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired December 1, 2017 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Our special coverage of these stories continues right now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: General Flynn, do you feel you have betrayed your country?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will your son be indicted?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will Trump pardon you?


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Jim Sciutto, we'll take it from here.

Happy Friday to all of you. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You are watching CNN on what is shaping up to be an extraordinarily day of news.

We begin with the damning and high-level proof so far that the special counsel's Russia investigation is not the, quote, "taxpayer-funded charade" that the president has called it. His former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, just pleaded guilty of lying to FBI about his interactions with the Russian ambassador. While he didn't say a whole heck of a lot coming and going out of that courthouse, his plea agreement does acknowledge that Flynn is now cooperating with Robert Mueller's team.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: General Flynn, do you feel you have betrayed your country?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will your son be indicted?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will Trump pardon you?


BALDWIN: Flynn issued this statement, quote, "After over 33 years of military service to our country, including nearly five years in combat away from my family, and then my decision to continue to serve the United States, it has been extraordinarily painful to endure these many months of false accusations of treason and other outrageous acts. Such false accusations are contrary to everything I have ever done, and stood for." He goes on, "But I recognize that the actions that I acknowledged in court today were wrong. And through my faith in God, I am working to set things right. My guilty plea and agreement to cooperate with the special counsel's office reflects a decision I made in the best interests of my family and of our country. I accept full responsibility for my actions."

We begin, Jim Acosta is at the White House for us for their response to this news.

But, Shimon Prokupecz, you first, sir, in Washington, on some of the details of this. And what do we know? What did General Flynn lie about specifically?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: In principle, the lie centered around the conversation he had with a former Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. The FBI confronted him back in January during an interview at the White House and they asked the former security adviser about his conversation about the Russian ambassador. And quite frankly, and just plainly, he lied about it. He lied to FBI investigators about the nature of the conversation, some of the details of that conversation. And there were two specific conversations, or two topics, I should say, that he lied about. One had to do with Russian sanctions, U.S. sanctions against Russia. And the second, we found out today in court papers, had to do with a United Nations Security Council vote against Israel settlements. He, Flynn, was calling various countries, including Russia. FBI asked him questions about some of that conversation, those conversations, and he lied about those as well to the FBI. So essentially it was lying to the FBI about the nature of these conversations.

But what we don't know, and what's not clear, and perhaps his cooperation may help investigators figure this out, is why did he lie about those conversations? Why wasn't he truthful to the FBI about the nature of those conversations?

BALDWIN: Jim Acosta, Shimon just set it up perfectly. How is the White House saying about this?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: First of all, I think that's something that will be interesting to talk about as we move forward here is, as Shimon was saying, why did Flynn lie about this to FBI and federal investigators? Keep in mind, during the transition, Sean Spicer, incoming press secretary and Jason Miller, the incoming communications director, who ended up not taking the job, told reporters on a conference call that Michael Flynn did have a phone conversation with the Russian ambassador around that December 28th, 29th time frame. And during that statement that Sean Spicer and Jason Miller gave to reporters, there was no talk of Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador talking about sanctions. This was described as something of a courtesy call, trying to set up a phone call or meeting at some point between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. So it may be -- and this is just me guessing here -- that Michael Flynn did not initially tell the truth about this because he perhaps was trying to stay consistent with what the transition told the American people as to what was going on during the transition. I only put that out there because that is what we were told in late December before President Trump was sworn into office.

I'll tell you that I tried to ask President Trump a couple of hours ago about Michael Flynn's pleading guilty here at the White House. And here's what happened. President had no comment.


[14:05:02] ACOSTA: Mr. President, any comment on Michael Flynn being indicted, sir? Can you comment on Michael Flynn being indicted? Mr. President, anything to say about Michael Flynn, former national security adviser?


ACOSTA: And there you have it. He did not want to answer that question. He was welcoming Libyan prime minister here to the White House.

Brooke, shortly after that, there was supposed to be a media availability in the Oval Office, one of those pool sprays where the president could have been asked about that, and they scrapped that. That got canceled.

Now the White House did put out a statement from Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer. I can read that to you and point out a couple of things to you if there is time. It says, "Today, Michael Flynn, a former security adviser for the White House for 25 days during the Trump administration and a former Obama administration official, entered a guilty plea to a single count of making a false statement to the FBI. The false statement mirrors the false statements to White House officials, which resulted in his resignation in February of this year. Nothing about the guilty plea or charge implicating anyone other than Mr. Flynn. The conclusion of this phase of the special counsel's work demonstrates that the special counsel is moving with all deliberate speed and clears the way for a prompt and reasonable conclusion."

That's wishful thinking at the end of that about the prompt and reasonable conclusion.

But, Brooke, I should tell you this description there in the statement about Michael Flynn being a former Obama administration official, we have to point out, Barack Obama, when he was still president

BALDWIN: And warned.

ACOSTA: -- had tried to warn President-Elect Trump, on November 9th or 10th I believe, in the Oval Office, to stay away from Michael Flynn. President Trump. President-Elect Trump did not take that advice. And it appears he is now paying the price for that.

A former Obama administration official reached out to me earlier today to say, listen, Michael Flynn worked in multiple administrations and was fired by Barack Obama, who tried to warn President-Elect Trump to stay away from Michael Flynn. He didn't take that advice -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: President Obama warned. Sally Yates warned.

ACOSTA: That's right.

BALDWIN: Jim, thank you. And thanks for trying to get that question in.

ACOSTA: You bet.

BALDWIN: So of the multitude of questions that all of us have, one is, who was Michael Flynn actually getting this direction from. A court document, called the Statement of Offense, indicates the chain of events that led to one of Flynn's calls to the Russian ambassador. It involved this United Nations vote on Israeli settlements. Quote, "On or about December 22, 2016, a very senior member of the presidential transition team directed Flynn to contact officials from foreign governments, including Russia, to learn where each government stood and to influence those governments to delay or defeat the resolution."

Was that very senior member the same person who influenced this tweet on the same day from the then-President-Elect? Quote, "The resolution being considered at the United Nations Security Council regarding Israel should be vetoed."

Here's the answer, we don't know.

We have a panel to walk through all of this.

There is a lot to get this.

Jeffrey Toobin has been on TV all day.

Good to see you. Welcome back.

Chief legal analyst. Norm Eisen is back with us, CNN contributor, who was chief White House ethics czar under President Obama. Seth Berenzweig, a business and compliance attorney, is also with us. And CNN political analyst, Karoun Demirjian, is with us as well.

So welcome to all of you.

And, Jeff Toobin, to you, to kick this off, we talked about how the noose had been tightening around Michael Flynn's neck. And we know and seen the news, and the fact that he is cooperating with this ongoing federal probe, what does that piece of it tell you?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it tells that the Mueller team believes that Flynn has useful testimony to give and useful information about the rest of his investigation.

And if I could just call your attention to one meeting that I think is really -- it takes on a new significance. When James Comey testified, after he was fired, and talked about the series of meetings with the president while the president was putting pressure on him about the Russian investigation. Think about the meeting on February 14. February 14 was the day that there was a meeting with very senior officials in the White House, the vice president, the attorney general and the FBI director. But the president excluded everyone except the FBI director, except Comey. And when he had Comey, just the two of them, he said, I want you to let Flynn go, Mike Flynn is a good guy, let him go. Why? Why did Donald Trump want Mike Flynn to be let go?

[14:10:01] BALDWIN: Let me add to that the fact that "The New York Times" today is reporting sometime this summer President Trump tried to get the chairman of the Senate Intel, Richard Burr, and senior Senate Republicans to kill this investigation.

Guys, throw out the full screen. Let's do this, because we did some digging.

You add that to this list of seven other people that Trump reportedly asked to shut this thing down. So the Toobin question is right on.

Mr. Ambassador, to you.

With all of these people that the president reportedly tried to talk to, to say, end this, why would he be trying to kill the Russian investigation?

NORM EISEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Brooke, thanks for having me back. The reason that the president is trying to kill the investigation has been answered by the president himself. Because he's feeling, he said -- he's given a variety of answers, including feeling the pressure of the Russia investigation. What is that pressure? I think Jeff is right to point to the Comey conversations. Because if the pressure is something corrupt, if he was afraid, as seems to have happened today, Flynn was going to testify against others close to him or maybe even against the president himself, that's obstruction of justice. And we, here at Brookings, have written a long report laying out all the elements of it. I think the president, to answer your question, the president was afraid that if he didn't shut down the investigation, this day would come. And if you look at the statement of the offense, the chips are just starting to fall. There are a lot of people that Flynn fingers in the court documents that were filed today.

BALDWIN: Let me go back to some of the details, and we'll come back to how the White House is responding to this.

Seth, here's my question, you have the retired three-star general, this is a military man. In his statement, he reminded us 33 years to this country. To do this without any instruction, isn't the question when we hear he was directed by the senior transition officials. Isn't the question who would have directed him to do this? Not only who would have directed but who else he might have shared the information with? SETH BERENZWEIG, BUSINESS & COMPLIANCE ATTORNEY, BERENZWEIG LEONARD:

Absolutely. And the thing that's so fascinating about the information that was provided to the court today demonstrates that the answer is somewhere within a remarkably short list. You can probably count on less than one hand, the fingers on one hand, the people who are in that inner circle that would be the senior transition official. And, you know, the hint is that their last name is either Trump or Kushner. There are people that you can probably take out of that circle. You can take Chris Christie out of that circle, because he left that group a little bit on the early side. Mike Pence, who was the chair on the transition, was dealing a lot with trying to get the appointments together for the heads of the agencies. So there is no question that the statement from the White House lawyer that this doesn't touch the White House, that's completely inaccurate. And in fact, I would also point to what the plea agreement is. He's going to deal with only one violation of the False Statements Act. That is a great deal for Michael Flynn.


BALDWIN: Because he faced multiple charges. This is just one.

BERENZWEIG: He's facing a vast multitude of charges. It's just a long menu.

Granted this is a five-year felony. However, one charge. This is a great deal for Michael Flynn. A very serious charge. There would not be this kind of deal if Flynn did not have great leverage to be able to demonstrate to Mueller. So this shows this is a historic day of damage for the White House.

BALDWIN: Well, isn't the phrase, the better the deal, the bigger the fish, Seth?

BERENZWEIG: Absolutely.

BALDWIN: We don't know who the fish is.

BERENZWEIG: We don't know who the fish is.

BALDWIN: Am I right?

BERENZWEIG: You are right.

TOOBIN: I have never heard that.

BERENZWEIG: Well, I can tell you --

BALDWIN: But it's a good thing.

BERENZWEIG: The menu of fish is a pretty short list because there aren't many fish that are senior officials that would constitute this list that are above the national security adviser to the president of the United States. So contrary to the statements of the White House counsel, this is an absolutely historic day, very damaging to the president. BALDWIN: All right. So on the president, Karoun, here's my question

to you. Talking to Jim Acosta over at the White House, we know they canceled this photo op. It would have been an opportunity for press to shut out questions. White House has been saying for a while now, low-level investigation, going to wrap up really soon. We know that president has a lied this as a charade. Michael Flynn is no coffee boy, correct?

[14:15:00] KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Correct. The fact that it's Flynn, compared to a few weeks ago, it was Papadopoulos. They can say that's some low-level person in the transition team, barely knew him. But the fact it's somebody like Flynn, in the inner circle, close to the president, who, we know from what Comey said, that he went to the mat to defend. Really by his side in various capacities throughout this whole run that he made to get to the White House. Then beyond, serving as national security adviser. That is not somebody you can lightly dismiss, especially when you have attested to the level on which you rely on him. So the president is probably thinking very carefully about what's he's going to say. Because as much as Flynn's lawyers have said, it's about Flynn, it doesn't go beyond Flynn, clearly, it goes beyond Flynn. Otherwise, there wouldn't have been a deal. So clearly, there must be something, other people, very senior White House advisers. That, by definition, is very close to the president. It could be the president or his relatives themselves. So in that regard, he has to be careful now about how he reacts and to dismiss it would be disingenuous. I don't think anybody would believe that. So they are probably scrambling at this point to try to figure out how to respond, and probably not going to be letting him do that off the cuff. Although this president, we'll see. We may see him tweet about something. But I'm sure his lawyers are counseling him to be very quiet about this until they figure out what the response will be.


TOOBIN: And that works so well with Donald Trump.


It's like, don't tweet, don't tweet, and he immediately follows that advice always.

BALDWIN: I have so much more for all of you. Please just stick around. We'll hold you over to a quick commercial break.

More on the breaking news, too, including reaction from Capitol Hill to this bombshell news with regard to Flynn's guilty plea. Will Republicans try to distance themselves from this and potentially from the White House? And how is the story actually playing in Russia today with the Kremlin. CNN is there. We'll have a live report.

Also how fired James Comey is reacting to this. Speaking of Twitter, oh, yes, he's tweeting as well.

You are watching CNN special coverage on a Friday. Do not move.


[14:21:31] BALDWIN: Back with the breaking news. We wanted to pull up a tweet for you. This is, speaking of the president, not tweeting today on speaking much about the bombshell news with regard to his former national security adviser. This is a Trump tweet from March of this year, "Mike Flynn should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt. Excuse for big election loss by media and Dems of historic proportion."

Just to jog our memories back to what the president himself had mentioned back in March.

I have my panel back with me.

Jeffrey Toobin, let me go back to you. When you look into this prosecutor document, it raises this question of whether the special counsel is looking at the Logan Act as a potential avenue for investigators. So each of these incidents discussed in court today revolve around actions taken by Flynn for the Trump transition team that interfered with the Obama administration, which was still in power. Logan Act, remind us what that is and the significance of this piece of information.

TOOBIN: The Logan Act is a law that says people who are not in the government cannot do foreign policy. And it's a crime. But one thing I would be willing to bet you is that no one is going to be prosecuted for the Logan Act. You know why? Because no one has ever been prosecuted under the Logan Act. This is 200-year-old law. Very obscure. Every time one of these foreign policy things come up, people talk about it. These prosecutors are bread and butter people. Look at what they've charged so far, lying to the FBI, violating the lobbying rules in the Paul Manafort case. They are not going to be prosecuting anyone for the Logan Act as far as I can see. I just think that is a complete nonstarter.

BALDWIN: Jeffrey Toobin, excusive me. I'm just saying that's my question.

TOOBIN: I get it. I get it.

BALDWIN: But I hear you.

TOOBIN: It's just that I know a lot of people talk about the Logan Act and count me as a skeptic.


TOOBIN: But I've been wrong. It's happened once.


Mr. Ambassador, back to you on, we talked about this initially when we found out about a week ago the Flynn legal team wasn't going to communicate anymore with the White House. That was our first sort of thought, OK, maybe there is a cooperation or a deal in the works. My question still is, how do investigators know -- if they know he has now admitted to lying to the FBI, how do they know that they are getting this cooperating witness to reveal everything that he knows? Tell me the truth.

EISEN: Well, whenever you get a cooperator with a guilty plea, there is always a little bit of a block on the astusion (ph), Brooke, right? You have somebody who committed a crime, lied or done other things. The way prosecutors know he's telling the truth is, first, they bring in the lawyer, Rob Kelner, and Kelner makes an attorney proffer. He says, this is what my client will say, he'll admit he lied, and he offers some corroborating evidence. And the prosecutors, they have audiotapes and other corroborating evidence. So then, Flynn himself comes in, and they get to kick the tires, look him in the eye and decide if he's being truthful or not. So they are not taking a pig in a poke here. They have done their due diligence.

BALDWIN: Not taking a pig in a poke here. These are all new phrases.

[14:25:02] TOOBIN: What's an astusion (ph).



EISEN: An is astusion (ph) is what the guy --



TOOBIN: What is an astusion (ph)? I'm dying to know.

EISEN: Toobin


BALDWIN: An astusion (ph) is what?

EISEN: An astusion (ph) is what the last guy who was prosecuting for violating the Logan Act was wearing when it happened in the 19th century.

BALDWIN: Wow. Wow.

OK, this is where we are going on a Friday. I'm OK with it. You know, we'll roll with it. And I appreciate all the bright minds here.

Here's my next question.

Seth, this is to you, because interesting to note, after General Flynn left the federal courthouse, he went to his son's house, Michael Flynn Jr, and there was some concern, according to reports, in recent weeks, that the father here, who has now pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, was concerned his soon would get mixed up in all of this and get in trouble as well. How much do you think, potentially, the son factored into his cooperation?

BERENZWEIG: Oh, I think the son was a major point of leverage in the negotiations with the special counsel.

BALDWIN: You do?

BERENZWEIG: Absolutely. And remember his son was the chief of staff of a company that was an unregistered foreign agent and that was engaged in a number of these different activities over a period of time. So the son has significant criminal exposure. That's why, early on, Mr. Flynn Sr, his lawyers said -- a couple of months ago, he said, look, my client has a story to tell. This was something that they wanted to have happen. And now it looks like that deal is closed. So when you talk about leaving the courthouse today, you'll probably see Michael Flynn Sr with his lawyer walking back into the same courthouse in a couple of weeks. Because I believe they are going to put him in front of the grand jury. And there, I can assure you, he will have a story to tell. So the prosecutor is going to be putting the pedal to the medal in the next couple of weeks, and there will be a lot of developments around the corner.

BALDWIN: Here's where I want to end the conversation.

Karoun, back over to you.

We begin with listening to Jeff Toobin, and referenced the February 14 meeting with Comey, saying you need to stop poking around, paraphrasing the president, with regard to this Russian investigation. Now we have the fired FBI Director James Comey tweeting. Let me show this with everyone. Here's the quote, "But justice rolled down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."

If you look at his Instagram, it's this picture of a stream, and rocks, "Amos 5:24."

How, Karoun, do you interpret that?

DEMIRJIAN: Comey doesn't tweet much, but when he does, it's to quote important things. I think this is him kind of sitting back and having his moment of thinking, ah, I said so, I knew it, I was honest. Look, he was pushed out of his job by the president and it was connected to the people involved in the events of today. So he's clearly watching all this, and clearly has thoughts and feelings about that, and he's expressing it in a tweet that is using somebody else's words. If you look through his Twitter profile, that's how he tweets when he seldom tweets. So that's kind of the narrative voice off to the side of James Comey remarking on this whole proceeding.

And certainly, his firing is what touched off much of this. You can't take that out of the equation. Had the president not gotten rid of Comey, there never would have been a special counsel. The special counsel would then not be looking at Michael Flynn and the senior members of the Trump transition team that he, apparently, was speaking with when it came to doing what he now admits to, he lied about to the FBI. So Comey is kind of, weirdly, the catalyst in that, and he's now taking his moment to kind of say, I can see what's happening here.

TOOBIN: Brooke?

BALDWIN: Go ahead.

TOOBIN: Brooke, it's the Biblical version of "I told you so."


Nanny, nanny, is what that was.

EISEN: Even better than that, because the thing that the president was asking Comey to let go of was the investigation of the lies that Flynn pled guilty to today. So, boy, was Comey righteous in refusing the president's request.

BALDWIN: Mr. Astusion (ph) got the last word.

It has been enlightening conversation with all of you. I appreciate you all so much. Thank you very much for that.

We'll stay on this breaking news through the next two hours.

Straight ahead, reaction coming in from Russia. How the Kremlin is responding to the news of Michael Flynn's guilty plea.

Also, he is the man at the center of it all. What former Russia Ambassador Sergey Kislyak said about interactions with the Trump team when CNN tracked him down. We'll take you live to Moscow, next.