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Michael Flynn Pleads Guilty to Lying to FBI; Russia Reaction to Flynn Guilty Plea; Lawmakers Respond to Flynn Guilty Plea; Sen. Mark Warner Talks Flynn Guilty Plea, Russia Investigation; McConnell on Tax Plan: "We Have the Votes". Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired December 1, 2017 - 14:30   ET



[14:34:18] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: We are back with breaking news on this Friday afternoon. President Trump's fired national security adviser, Michael Flynn, has apparently cut a deal. Flynn pleading guilty to lying to the FBI, admitting he misled the investigators about his interactions with the former Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. He now faces up to five years in prison.

With me now Tony Blinken, CNN global affairs analyst and former deputy of state and former deputy national security advisor, and Matthew Chance, there for us in Moscow, CNN international correspondent.

Matthew, beginning with you, the news has fallen here hard and fast here in the United States. You are in Russia. I know you have been chasing down a number of Russians involved in this, including the man at the center of all this, Kislyak, what's been the reaction where you are?

[14:35:08] MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there has been sort of a horrified silence in the past couple of hours as these events dramatic events unfold in the United States. We have approached the usual figures. the Kremlin has not got back to me on any response to. Russian foreign ministry, one of my colleagues got a response back from the foreign ministry spokesman saying what has this to do with us. So at the moment, they haven't formulated what they'll say about these staggering developments in the United States. Because everybody looks like a liar following this confession, essentially from Michael Flynn.

Kislyak, you mentioned him there. I tracked him down in the summer. And tried to ask him what he discussed with members of the Trump transition team, the presidential transition team, all the Trump campaign. And he simply wouldn't answer me. Take a listen.


CHANCE: Hi, Mr. Ambassador. Quick question. Did you discuss sanctions with any members of the Trump team when you were in the United States?

SERGEY KISLYAK, FORMER RUSSIA AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: With your respect I'm here to talk to Russian people. CHANCE: I understand that. You say you've got no secrets.

KISLYAK: I said everything I wanted prior to this.

CHANCE: Did you discuss opening secret channels with the Kremlin with Jared Kushner, for instance?

KISLYAK: I've said many times that we do not discuss the substance of our discussions with our American counterparts, out of respect to our promise.


CHANCE: Well, Kislyak told state media here in Russia that sanctions were not one of the subjects he discussed with U.S. counterparts. But of course, we now know from this Flynn confession that, in fact, Michael Flynn did speak to Kislyak about him moderating the response to the U.S. sanctions that were imposed by President Obama and then reporting back to the presidential transition team about that, the substance of that conversation. And so everybody over here in Russia now, as I expect, struggling to decide what their response will be.

BALDWIN: Horrified silence in Russia.

Tony, over to you. You know as, deputy adviser, former job, you know that Flynn would have had all kinds of access. How worried should the White House be about what could come of this?

TONY BLINKEN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, Brooke, I think she should be worried because clearly Mr. Flynn has struck a deal to cooperate. And that means he has something of value to Mr. Mueller. And the big question now of course is what is that something of value. And I suspect we'll find that out in the coming days or weeks. And the fact that some very small group of people were in this loop about the contacts with the Russians, someone who apparently instructed Mr. Flynn to contact him about one of the issues at hand, and others that were kept involved after he had these contacts, they should be concerned too. What we have is an exclamation point today on a long litany of lies by the administration about contacts with the Russians during the campaign, and then during the transition. And the substance of those contacts. Now, whether any of that amounts to a crime by anyone else, it's too soon to say. Whether this goes back to collusion, we don't know. Whether there is a violation of the Logan Act, which is your previous panel said has never been prosecuted, that's a whole other matter. But we do know at the very least and we have seen this play out over the last few weeks, time and again unfortunately starting with the president, senior administration officials have denied contacts that turned out to have happened, and denied the substance of those contacts, which now we know were, in fact, true.

BALDWIN: Can you talk to me a little bit about, we have made the point at the top of the show, I think some people forget Michael Flynn was someone who President Obama had warned Trump about, about not hiring. The acting A.G. had warmed Trump about this guy, Sally Yates. And it raises questions about why ignore those warnings and what sort of process would one have to go through to get this kind of job.

BLINKEN: Look, I don't know the substance of the warnings that President Obama apparently made and Sally Yates obviously in the context of finding out that Mr. Flynn had lied to Vice President Pence also issued. But clearly the fact that Mr. Flynn left the Obama administration early because he was compelled to do so was an indication that there was a real problem. Look, I don't know what motivated President Trump. It may simply have been, to be fair, may have been loyalty. Mr. Flynn was with him from the start. He was a very vocal advocate for his candidacy. So maybe he felt a sense of loyalty. But it's also possible that there is something else there. We don't know. I suspect based on the investigation that Mr. Mueller is conducting we'll find out.

[14:40:11] BALDWIN: Twelve hours ago was entirely different story dominating the headlines, right, the whole reports indicate, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's future, how long might he be there, that kind of thing, the fact that maybe he was on his way out, reporting indicates to those, those were more or less smoke signals trying to send to him, we are done with you, essentially. Do you think that this bombshell reporting now with regard to Flynn maybe buys Tillerson more time? Would the White House want to avoid rocking that kind of cabinet vote?

BLINKEN: Look, Brooke, it's possible. One of the good news in Washington these days, if you are in the cross hairs, if you just wait five or six or seven hours, something else will come out of the story. Another set of cross hairs. (CROSSTALK)

BLINKEN: Yes. So I think Secretary Tillerson may benefit from that.

At the end of the day, I don't think so. I think there is a larger dysfunction at play. And it's unfortunate. Because substantially, Tillerson has given sound advice on whole set of issues, telling him to stick with the Paris Climate Accord, with the Trans-Pacific Trade Agreement, with the Iran nuclear deal, to hang tight with Russians for their aggression in Ukraine, et cetera. And time and again, not only has the president not listened to his advice, he's publicly contradicted and undermined Tillerson effectiveness. At the same time, while Tillerson, I think, has been giving good advice on public policy, we have seen a hollowing out of the State Department. We have seen a mass exodus of senior officers going that's to be the detriment of the department, not the just today and tomorrow, but for an entire generation. And that, unfortunately, is not only on his watch, it's something he helped precipitate.

BALDWIN: Madeline Albright referring to it as an open wound.

BLINKEN: That's right.

BALDWIN: An open wound at the State Department.

Tony Blinken, always a pleasure. Please come back. Thanks so much.

BLINKEN: Thanks, Brooke. BALDWIN: On Capitol Hill today, the talk about taxes. But on the

Senate floor, Flynn's guilty plea. What the Senate Intelligence chair is telling Republican colleagues when it comes to any kind of public comment on today's Russia investigation bombshell.


[14:46:38] BALDWIN: Up on Capitol Hill today U.S. Senators quite consumed with the vote on the Republican tax bill, as they should be. They want that win. But some are still managing to speak out about today's huge developments on Michael Flynn.

Senator Lindsey Graham telling CNN senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, that he is urging the president not to pardon Flynn. And former Democratic vice-presidential nominee, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, saying he is, quote, "Not surprised," but called the words disturbing.

So let's bring in Manu Raju on the Hill. Also with us, Renato Mariotti, former federal prosecutor, on some of these legal threads on Flynn.

But, Manu, first to you.

I saw the Senate Intel chair patting your shoulder, as he was trying to get in that elevator, as in I'm not talking to press. Tell me about that and what other Republicans are saying?

RAJU: Yes, that's right. In fact, Senator Richard Burr, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, went behind closed doors talking about the Flynn news. And I am told from a source in the room that, in fact, he urged and suggested to his members not to comment publicly about the Flynn news.

Now, when I tried to ask him about that, as well as the "New York Times" report that the president himself called Richard Burr and asked him to end the Senate Russia investigation, Burr did not want to comment. Take a listen.



RAJU: Has the president called you?

BURR: I don't have anything to say with you today. Thanks for your interest but I have no comments.

RAJU: Do you feel pressure to end the investigation because of the president's concerns?


BURR: You guys are learning to walk backwards pretty good.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: -- pleading guilty.

BURR: No comments.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How is your investigation going?

BURR: Thanks guys.

RAJU: This is pretty significant charges.


BURR: Thanks. Thanks for your interest.


BURR: I don't have anything to say to you today. But appreciate it.


BURR: Thanks.


RAJU: Now, Brooke, that's the Republican side. Most staying quiet, except one that has an interest on this investigation.

But Democrats, on the other hand, are not. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, raising significant concerns about the Flynn plea, the fact that he pled guilty, and also saying it raises deeper questions about whether there's anyone else involved in some of these conversations with the Russian ambassador and who else knew about it.

Here's what Mark Warner said about the reports that President Trump himself called Richard Burr and asked him to end the Russia probe.


RAJU: Did Senator Burr previously tell you about his conservation with Trump?

WARNER: I am -- the focus is, are we going to be able to do this investigation in a way where we get access to all the witnesses. We will do that. And, I think, again, I was proud of what the chairman said in "The New York Times" story that, you know, he acknowledged that he needed to stay away from the White House. But what's the real issue here is you have this repeated pattern of the president of the United States who is trying desperately to stop this investigation. Cost Jim Comey his job because he wouldn't stop the investigation. He intervened with Senators and other senior intelligence officials. I think the American people and a lot of us ask, why is he so desperate to have this investigation stopped, particularly as we see more and more people either plead guilty or come forward under indictment.


[14:50:23] RAJU: And, Brooke, Mark Warner also said he wants to bring back to the Senate Intelligence Committee Jared Kushner, the president son-in-law, Michael Cohen, president's attorney, and also Donald Trump Jr, who has yet to meet with his committee. So still some major witnesses and people who may be knowledgeable about what happened here with Michael Flynn as well -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: Manu, great reporting. Thank you so much.

Renato, pivoting over to you and the legal piece with Flynn today. The fact is he lied to the FBI and admitted to it, pled guilty in federal courthouse. You talk about he's gotten a pretty sweet deal. What does that infer?

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, that tells me that Mr. Mueller got something very valuable in exchange. There is that old saying that nothing is in life is free. Well, that's certainly the case when dealing with federal prosecutor. They don't giveaway deals that are very favorable to you unless they are getting something favorable back in exchange. And this deal is very good for Michael Flynn. He's pleading guilty to one count of making a false statement to an FBI agent. That carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, which in itself is upper limit on the cap what the judge can do. But also the guideline range that the prosecutors are saying would be guideline for sentence is zero to six months, which considering all we've heard over Flynn's potential liability relating to the lobbying work he was doing on behalf of Turkey and failure to register as foreign agent, the fact that none of that is part of the deal and all he's looking at a recommended sentence under the guidelines of zero to six months tells me Mr. Mueller believes he's getting substantial assistance in exchange. And that would mean testimony that would lead to the prosecution of somebody significant, somebody who Mueller believes is not like a step down from Michael Flynn, not somebody who is an associate or assistant, but somebody who is more significant than Flynn is.

BALDWIN: Let's be more specific than that. I mean, from all these smart minds I've talked to, you know, the people on that list of senior administration officials, their last names would either have to be, you tell me, either Kushner or Trump.

MARIOTTI: Well, those are certainly people that come to mind when talking about who would be important enough for Bob Mueller to give this sort of deal to. There may be people that we have not focused on right now. Maybe Sam Clovis, who is co-chair of the campaign. I know Papadopoulos had conversations with him.


BALDWIN: Pence transition.

MARIOTTI: Right. Exactly right. He was co-chair of the campaign. But very significant figure as well. But what we've heard in terms of connection to Flynn would be Kushner. And, look, Michael Flynn somebody who the president of the United States has a very close relationship with. He allegedly told the FBI director to let the investigation go against Flynn because he's a good guy. So the president has himself communicated a lot with Flynn. If I was inside the White House, I would be very interested in exactly what Flynn knew about what the president said and did. And I would be considering -- I know, they said Democrats are concerned about a pardon. If I was on the Flynn team I would have already tried to reach out to get that pardon. So this suggests that none is forth coming. But for the president's team, that's the sort of thing you want to talk about if Flynn could potentially hurt the president.

BALDWIN: We've at least heard from Republican friend of the president lindsey Graham saying he hopes the president doesn't issue the pardon to Michael Flynn. But we wait to see who that bigger fish might be.

Renato Mariotti, thank you so much.

MARIOTTI: Thank you.

[14:54:15] BALDWIN: And of course, thanks to Manu up on the Hill. I appreciate that.

Coming up next though, other breaking news on Capitol Hill. "We have the votes," that is the word from the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell. This is huge, huge news for Republicans today. We'll tell you where the Republican tax bill stands right now.


BALDWIN: Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, says he now has the 50 votes he needs to pass the sweeping tax reform legislation. Some hold outs like Arizona Senator Jeff Flake and Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson say they will now support this bill.

Let's go to Phil Mattingly, our CNN congressional correspondent, up on the Hill.

This is huge, huge news for Republicans. When will the vote happen?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, if you had an answer to that, you probably get a lot of money as a lobbyist right now, Brooke.

Here's the reality. Look, I think the Senate majority leader doesn't talk about whip counts unless he knows the whip count is accurate. So saying he has the votes means he has the vote. Every Republican aide I've spoken to that's been working on this confirms that.

And one of the primary reasons is Senator Jeff Flake coming on board. Brooke, aides this morning told me Senator Flake was still a no on this bill, now he's a yes.

I want to read two of the primary reasons why. Put out a statement saying, "During the debate over the current bill, it focused on two objectives. The first was to eliminate $85 billion expensing budget in the bill. The second was to obtain a firm commitment from Senate leadership and the administration to work with me on growth-oriented legislative solutions to enact fair and permanent protections for DACA recipients. Having secured both of those objectives, I'm pleased to announce I'll support the bill."

On the expensing provision, when it came to the tax bill, while Flake has always identified as a deficit hawk, the expensing issue is one he has repeatedly talked about behind closed doors. As the Senate bill was yesterday, the expensing provision was going to sunset after five years. Now it's more a gradual phase out and lasts longer. That was important on the tax piece.

But the DACA piece is very important. Senator Jeff Flake, from Arizona, has been a big proponent, part of the gang of eight when it came to undocumented immigrants. This is something he cares about deeply. He will now be in the room in those negotiations. Several people told me, from a legacy perspective -- Senator Flake is retiring -- that was an important component of this. The deal is now there, Brooke. They just need to actually have the votes.

BALDWIN: Great for Republicans.

Phil Mattingly, the man who talks taxes in his sleep --