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CNN SPECIAL REPORTS
Flynn Flipped; Kushner's Role; Russia Contact's. Aired 11-12mn ET
Aired December 1, 2017 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[23:00:05] ANNOUNCER: This is "CNN breaking news."
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SPECIAL REPORT RUSSIAN INVESTIGATION: This is a CNN special report, the Russia investigation. We are following breaking news this evening on the most consequential move yet by the special counsel, reaching for the first time into President Trump's inner circle. I'm Pamela Brown.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN SPECIAL REPORT RUSSIAN INVESTIGATION: I'm Jim Sciutto. Tonight fired national security adviser Michael Flynn is cooperating with investigators after striking a deal and pleading guilty to repeatedly lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia. We are putting all the pieces together this hour with our correspondents and analysts who have been leading the way on this story.
Michael Flynn is the first senior White House official to be charged, to be flipped apparently, and now poised to be a star witness in the Russia probe. Among the big questions tonight, what is Flynn telling Robert Mueller's team and how damaging could all of this be for the President and those closest to him, including his son-in-law Jared Kushner? Sources tell CNN that Kushner directed Flynn to reach out to the Russian ambassador last September in one of several conversations that Flynn lied about. Court document showed that prosecutors are making a case that Flynn and other Trump advisers coordinated contacts with Russian officials, contacts aimed at influencing international policy before the President took office.
Tonight a senior White House official tells CNN a Presidential pardon for Flynn is quote, absolutely not under consideration. A source close to the administration is warning that the President and his aides are in denial about the severity of the Russia probe and that the Flynn deal should be a red alert for them.
We're joined with our panel of reporters here who have been covering this story very closely from the beginning. Pam, you've been covering this story from the beginning as well. Really a momentous day in this investigation and for this administration as well.
BROWN: That is right, because Michael Flynn is the first official that was in the White House to be charged in the investigation, until what happened today really brings the focus on the others in the White House, too, how this might impact them. Gloria Borger, the big question, how does this deal threaten President Trump?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We don't know the answer to that yet, but what I can say is, first of all, we know that Flynn has flipped. So this takes Mueller into the oval office, into somebody who was in the west wing, and he has cooperation from somebody in the west wing. The White House has always said that it was misled by Flynn about his Russian contacts. So now we have to ask the question, is that true? Were they misled? Of course it gives us a whole new view of the time the President went up to Comey, pulled him aside, told other people to leave the room and said, "You know, why don't you let this thing go." And now you have to ask the question, why did the President do that? Was it just because he thought Flynn was a good guy and had been an early supporter, or was there something else there?
SCIUTTO: You look at the statement of offense here. It is very detailed about these conversations.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right.
SCIUTTO: The White House position has been from the very beginning, the President didn't know about this, Flynn was freelancing, et cetera. In fact, you look at the statement of offense and it describes Flynn not only keeping the Trump transition informed, but senior persons in the Trump transition directing him what to do with these conversations.
PEREZ: Right. And we know from our own reporting back in December when some of the stuff was happening, Jim, we know that senior people inside the administration, inside the transition were managing not only this issue with the U.N. Security council and the Israeli settlements which was a big deal for the transition, but also the contact with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador. What are things people ask is it possible the President did not know this, which is what he said? We know he took the initiative to make phone calls on the Israeli settlement situation. That doesn't really tell us this is a President that is sort of out of touch with what was happening with his transition, with what was happening with his incoming national security adviser. From everything we know the President was very much involved in all of this, and we know from his public statements that he doesn't think it was a big deal. So, you know, I don't think that we can say that he was completely unaware.
BROWN: Yes, you bring up his public statements. Of course it brings to mind twitter and some of the tweets in the same time frame. For example, when Flynn spoke with Kislyak, the day after that he tweeted, great move on delay by V. Putin, of course Vladimir Putin of Russia. I always knew he was very smart. In March the President tweeted, 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. What does it tell you about President Trump and what he may have known?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: It raises the question of what he did know. One of the things I want to know is did the President continue to have communication for Michael Flynn, for how long, and how recently has he actually spoken to the former national security adviser? We know the President for one has kept in contact with a lot of these deposed -- these officials who are no longer part of the administration, part of the campaign. He continued to talk to Paul Manafort afterwards, he continue to talk to Corey Lewandowsky. Did he talk to Michael Flynn afterwards?
[23:05:22] That tweet about praising Vladimir Putin after Putin did not retaliate of sorts after the sanctions were imposed has to beg the question, someone must have told him about these conversations right beforehand, otherwise, you know, it really defies logic.
SCIUTTO: This is a very small transition.
RAJU: And it was a small group of people meeting in Mar-a-Lago at that time of the phone call.
BORGER: Lying is not a crime. You can lie to the press and it is not a crime.
SCIUTTO: Part of the administration's defense, you know, during -- both during the campaign and during the transition was, listen, we were a small team, we didn't -- you know, we weren't Washington insiders, we didn't know how all of this kind of stuff worked.
RAJU: But we were all the best.
BORGER: I don't know if Mueller could use that as --
SCIUTTO: No, Gloria, it goes to the point, if they were so small, as we know they were, how is it possible that the President, who is very involved and very much a micromanager would not know?
BORGER: Right, I don't think you could say it is a disengaged President, which is what -- during Iran contra what the Reagan administration said about Ronald Reagan, disengaged. This is a President who is very engaged, and I think the question here is why. Why so much emphasis on Russia and why so much lying about this? Why if you have nothing to hide, if the President has said, well, there's nothing wrong with it, then fine. Then why, you know, why not tell the truth?
BROWN: Let me just -- why in terms of just for context, what is the implication? Why does it matter if the President did know about all of this, Evan?
PEREZ: One of the things that the President has been very out there about is sort of saying that this is a witch-hunt. So the question that I think we know that as part of this investigation Mueller has been looking at is the question of obstruction and whether or not there was an attempt by the President, by anybody around him to sort of obstruct the FBI's investigation into trying to get to the bottom of what happened in the 2016 election, whether or not there was any coordination, illegal coordination between the Russians and the campaign. So, look, I think that is a big open question here, and that is why it is important to know what the President knew and when did he know it.
SCIUTTO: We do know that is a focus of Robert Mueller's investigation, do we not?
PEREZ: Yes, we know there's a group inside the special counsel's office that is dedicated to answering that question, of whether or not -- what has happened. Some of it in plain sight, right? I mean the firing of James Comey, some of the public statements, whether any of that constitutes obstruction of justice.
BREWER: And how does what happened today perhaps fit into that? I mean does it?
PEREZ: Look, I think -- I think you can make the case that some of what is said here today tells you that at least some of the statements we've seen are not true. For instance, the fact that the President and the White House has been out there sort of portraying Mike Flynn as being on his own, as being some kind of free agent, that is not true according to these statements because according to the version of events that have been presented in court and accepted by a Judge now, Robert Mueller is saying that Flynn was reporting back and getting direction from people, a small circle of people.
SCIUTTO: It is key, panel, and I was going to ask you about this, Manu, is the timeline is very relevant here. Flynn is interviewed on January 24, 2016 by the FBI. Two days later, Sally Yates, then acting FBI Director -- Attorney General, raises a red flag, because he was apparent he had lied in that interview. And then, Manu, it is a couple of weeks later when the President has a famous sit-down with James Comey and says, "hey, layoff my pal Michael Flynn."
RAJU: Yeah, and keeping him on staff, Flynn, for a couple of weeks afterwards.
RAJU: Despite having that warning, very blatant warning from Sally Yates.
BROWN: And only fired him because it became public in "the Washington Post."
RAJU: Exactly. I think it is also because of what he told the ice President. I think the Vice President is also someone that Mueller undoubtedly will be looking at, people on Capitol Hill will be looking at. He was head of the transition. He perhaps may have had some sense of these discussions that were going on. Even if he was not named in that court document today, it does not mean he may not have been aware of some of the things that were happening here. That is one of the key questions that I think Mueller is going to have to explore.
BORGER: You know, what this document today does is it sort of lets you know where the tentacles go. It is the connective tissue. It says, ok, Flynn whom is our guy now, Flynn says he was not a rogue operator.
[23:10:01] RAJU: Right. BORGER: And he did this either with the knowledge of or at the
direction of people who were going into this administration, and that sort of opens a window on to what Mueller might know. But there's so much more that he knows that we don't know.
SCIUTTO: There's a lot of signaling, is there not --
SCIUTTO: -- when you look at the statement of offense as to what issues Mueller is pressing on here.
BROWN: But it is not just related to Flynn, it is related to others. As you pointed out, we learned Kushner was one of the people who, according to court documents was directing Flynn to call Kislyak, the Russian ambassador. We know we reported earlier this week that Kushner met with special counsel earlier in the month. Looking back on it, it was initially portrayed as a way to button up the case against Flynn. But knowing what we now know, Gloria, do you think they could have been laying a trap for the President's son-in-law? In a sense?
BORGER: They could have. I mean I think Jared Kushner is well- represented, but I think that -- I talked to one attorney today who is familiar with the way these things work and said, "look, they could have been playing them a little bit and laying a little bit of a trap."
PEREZ: We just have to look at the statements that have been issued by people, you know, close to the White House who are trying to say that, look, Kushner did not direct, and, look, that is the version of events that Kushner gave when he met with the special counsel in early November, then that is a problem because that is not exactly -- that is not the version that Robert Mueller says he believes happened.
SCIUTTO: Contradicts it, yes. Contradicts it.
RAJU: Presumably he has intercepts too that prove exactly what was said.
PEREZ: He has evidence, he has e-mails, and he has reams of documents. So he has a lot more information, and he had this at the time that he brought Kushner in for the interview.
BROWN: Clearly they wanted to interview Kushner before this happened today.
BROWN: You know, they already had the case essentially.
PEREZ: They already had it.
BROWN: They had spoken to Flynn and other witnesses.
SCIUTTO: You already have two Trump advisers caught in lies, lies to FBI investigators, pleading out, George Papadopoulos, but much lower ranking, but still, he was cooperating for weeks and months and that could very (inaudible). And the second one and clearly Mueller looking at the possibility that others might give inaccurate accounts to the FBI as well.
It raises a lot of question, and one of them of course is the Flynn guilty plea a first step toward building an obstruction of justice case against the President. We're going to talk to a Democrats involved in the Russian investigation in the house after a quick break.
[23:16:13] BROWN: And we are back with our special report on the Michael Flynn plea deal and what's next in the Russia investigation.
SCIUTTO: President Trump potentially at greater risk tonight now that Flynn is cooperating with the special counsel.
BROWN: We're joined by a Democrat on the house judiciary committee, congress David Cicilline. Congressman thank you so much for coming on. A lots of going on today, the first big question in the wake of the news of this plea deal, how significant is it that Michael Flynn is now cooperating with the special counsel?
DAVID CICILLINE, (D) RHODE ISLAND: I think it is incredibly significant. This is the former national security adviser to the United States of America who has admitted lying to the FBI in connection with this Russian investigation and agreed to cooperate fully as a condition of his plea agreement and to share everything that he knows. This is a very significant event. This has now brought this investigation into the White House, into the President's inner circle. This is very, very significant.
You know, you have to ask the question, you know, why all of this lying about Russia and Russian contacts. That is the larger question. But I think this is a very, very important development. It's very sad in many ways that the national security adviser to the President of the United States lied to the FBI during the course of this very important investigation. But I think we're going to hear a lot more and I think this is a very important move, because it now is really in the inner circle of the Trump administration, a member of the administration, an important member. So we'll see what happens from here.
SCIUTTO: Congressman, did what we learned today show to you that the President has been lying about what he knew about these conversations?
CICILLINE: Well, I mean it is hard to believe that this very small group that was part of the transition and particularly Michael Flynn who was so close to the President from the very early days of the campaign that he admitted in this plea agreement that he was reporting back to a high-level person in the transition. It is hard to believe that that information was not shared with the President of the United States, but we'll see. But the reality is you have to ask why is it that these conversations are happening between the new administration and Russia, what's the in urgency of trying to curry favor with the Russians?
Remember, this is in the context of a platform -- the only thing in the Republican platform that was changed was a more favorable plank toward Russia. The conclusion of all of our intelligence community that the Russians in an effort directed by Vladimir Putin engaged in interference in our campaign with the express purpose of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton, and any number of Trump officials who have lied about or forgotten to tell or reveal their dealings with the Russians.
So, you know, you have to remember the context of all of this, and you ask the question why. What are they hiding? What is this relationship with Russia? When did it begin? What did the President know about it? What did he have to do with it? Of course, most importantly, was there some relationship between the Trump organization and the Russians during the course of the campaign?
BROWN: One of the things we learned today was that there were members of the Trump transition team that were aware of Michael Flynn's call with Ambassador Kislyak and the fact that sanctions were discussed. But listen to how Vice President Pence responded to the first reports that Flynn spoke to Kislyak about sanctions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENTIAL-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was strictly coincidental that they had a conversation. They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: So Pence was the head of the Trump transition team. Do you believe he was really left in the dark about these phone calls?
[23:20:07] CICILLINE: Well, it is really hard to believe that. I mean he is the head of the transition. Michael Flynn is relaying this information to a very small group. A senior administration official that I think now has been identified as Jared Kushner, it is hard to imagine that the head of the transition team would not know about that. But, again, I think what we're going to learn during the course of this investigation is that Michael Flynn has a lot more to tell. I think he acknowledges that in his plea agreement. I think we have the responsibility now to make sure that Robert Mueller can continue his work, that he has the resources he needs to continue this work, and that he is free from any political interference.
Of course, we've seen the President attempt to try to influence this investigation by asking Director Comey to sort of let it go as it relates to Michael Flynn. We've heard now about phone calls that he made to Senators to try to encourage them to put an end to this Russian investigation. You have to ask what is he worried about, what is he afraid we're going to uncover, but we need to protect the integrity of this investigation and let Robert Mueller and his professionals do their work on behalf of the American people. SCIUTTO: Congressman, I want to ask you because in May of this year,
some seven months ago, you said and I'm quoting you now, "if, in fact, the President attempted to impede or prevent an investigation and obstructed justice that is a basis for removal of office, from office." Did you learn anything today that rises in your view to that level, to the level of impeachment?
CICILLINE: Well, I think, again, it is a little early. I think we saw some evidence of an effort to impede the investigation. Directory Comey testified that the President said, you know, can you let this go. Mike Flynn is a good guy, words to that effect, which he understood to be a directive to end the investigation. He didn't do it thankfully and he continued to investigate, but we've seen some evidence of the President trying to diminish the importance of this investigation, make little of it, reach out to Senators asking them to end it and, of course, the conversations he is had with Comey to try to put an end to this investigation.
I think we've got to all be certain that the President understands, he cannot interfere with this investigation, the special counsel has a responsibility to get to the bottom of this and find the facts, and the President ought to be restrained by his administration officials to do nothing to interfere with this important responsibility of Robert Mueller. I think what we're going to learn is that Michael Flynn has a lot to tell. He was part of the inner circle of this administration in the early days. He is required under this plea agreement to share everything and do it truthfully or he will lose the value of the plea agreement. So I think the special counsel has a lot of leverage to make sure that Michael Flynn is truthful and accurate and shares everything he knows.
BROWN: All right, Congressman Cicilline, thank you so much for coming on and sharing your perspective.
SCIUTTO: Coming up next on our special report tonight, the thorny legal issues facing President Trump and his team now that Michael Flynn is cooperating with Robert Mueller's prosecutors.
[23:27:32] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. We are following the aftershocks of today's momentous developments in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe.
BROWN: Michael Flynn, President Trump's former national security adviser, now is cooperating with prosecutors after accepting a deal and pleading guilty to lying to the FBI. Our reporters and legal experts are joining us now to discuss.
SCIUTTO: Michael Zeldin, I want to begin with you, not only are you a lawyer, but you worked for Robert Mueller before. There appears to be a bit of denial in the White House. That might be an understatement. The President's lawyer Ty Cobb calling Michael Flynn a former Obama administration official. This is the President's national security adviser, a vocal supporter of course for President Trump then- candidate Trump during the campaign, does it seem like the White House legal team has a handle on how severe this is.
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think Ty Cobb understands fully the significance of this. In some sense, that was a true, but misleading statement. He was an Obama official, but he is not under indictment, because of his role in the Obama administration. It is in this administration that he is under legal jeopardy and Ty Cobb well knows that. I think what the White House is trying to say is this is not collusion. It doesn't go backwards to the campaign. It goes only forward from the transition, therefore we're home free. We will see whether Mueller's evidence supports that view or not.
BROWN: Of course, a big question is what information he is providing now that we've learned with the plea agreement that he is cooperating. In a deal like this it begs the question, is Flynn expected to provide evidence that could incriminate people up the ladder?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Right. So I think one of the most notable things about this particular plea deal is considering sort of the range of exposure that Flynn might have on any number of possible criminal issues, and this is a pretty good deal, right. He is not facing significant jail time, it is not a significant financial penalty. That is an indication that he has a lot to share with Mueller and that he is helping Mueller net a bigger fish. Now, the realm of people who qualify as bigger fish than the national security adviser on an issue of sort of public corruption, public legitimacy is a pretty small pool. I think all signs point to substantial cooperation and substantial cooperation to get someone up the chain.
BROWN: Right, There is one count. One count of lying where there could have been many more.
SCIUTTO: Could have been many more. One count that covered four lies. Actually in the statement of offense, you also details three other lies that he didn't at least now charge for. I want to do some of the math here if I can with you, Michael Zeldin, with your legal background, because Robert Mueller left a lot of potential years on the table, sentencing years on the table. I want to put up on the screen.
[23:30:00] We did a little rough math before the program here. If he chose to prosecute each of the false statements individually, that is five years a piece. That gets you to 35 years. Failure to register as a foreign agent, that is mentioned in the statement of offense, but he is not charging for that now. We know he failed to report foreign income for a speech he was paid for to go in Moscow in 2015 at the RT gala. This is a Russian television network viewed as propaganda by the U.S. We also know that he had some omissions from his security clearance forms. I mean very quickly as you can up there, again, this is the outer end of what a prosecutor might pursue, but you don't leave those years on the table, do you, unless you're expecting real cooperation?
ZELDIN: I think that is exactly right. That you don't leave 50-plus years unattended to unless the substantial cooperation that this witness is going to get you is, as Susan's point saying to somebody important or to the core mission of the investigation. So it may not be that it is somebody above him in the food chain. It could be collateral people all around him at his same level, but get to this question of was there collusion, which is the heart of what Mueller is there to investigate and-or whether there was obstruction of justice.
There are a lot of people that this information touches upon. Mueller calls people -- calls Flynn a surrogate. We've heard that word surrogate a lot of times in the Sessions' testimony. We also know that he was indicted or he pled guilty here to failure to remember, not just affirmative lie, but I failed to remember something. We heard that from Attorney General Sessions over 100 times in three testimonies. So there are things in here which signal other things that may be tentacles out into the ecosystem.
BROWN: So then, you know, Shimon, who in Trump's or bit should be most worried?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER, CNN: We have talked a lot today about Jared Kushner, and that certainly seems to be a person whose name comes up a lot. He is -- though not named in thinks documents today, we've learned that he was the very senior official that was communicating with Flynn about some of the -- some of his communication with Russia. Look, we also know there are other people that have -- that the investigators have shown interest and are supposed to go speak with Mueller. Hope Hicks is one of those people, the White House communications Director. She is very close to the President. These are some of the people whose names have surfaced, names that have been of interest to the special counsel.
I think as we've all been saying here, anyone who worked on any foreign policy, anyone who was on the sort of the advisory panel, the foreign advisory panel, is probably in the crosshairs of investigators, because time and time again we keep seeing people who were associated with the foreign policy, specifically with Russia, are having problems.
What is it that they were lying about? Why is it that they all seem to be -- to have this pattern of not being truthful about Russia? The other thing, Israel has come up now too. We have talked about this today as well. Now Israel, what was going on with Israel? These communications with Israel that Jared Kushner was having, others were having and that came up in court document also today. So, again, foreign policy is coming to play here.
SCIUTTO: If I could ask you, Jim Acosta, White House official telling Jim Acosta tonight that a pardon for Flynn is definitely not on the cards for now, but the fact is of course that could change over time. From legally could the President? Does he have the prerogative to pardon a Michael Flynn, for instance?
HENNESSEY: Right, it is certainly an interesting question. The President has very wide-ranging pardon power. So the President probably could pardon Flynn. It is interesting sort of how Robert Mueller has played this, right. Certainly there was a proffer agreement in which he explains, you know, lots of Michael Flynn explained lots and lots of facts. Now imagine it now he pled guilty. Imagine the President pardons him. Mueller's team could still hold him to that cooperation agreement. Actually if he has been pardoned, he no longer has a Fifth Amendment right to prevent himself from talking. So if Trump pardons Flynn, Mueller could still use Flynn's - still used that sworn grand jury or proffered testimony in order to get him to testify against all of the facts that he has already revealed. This is sort of an interesting and pretty clever position they've now put Flynn in the larger Trump --
SCIUTTO: So the President could pardon Flynn, but still use Flynn to potentially prosecute others, is that what you are saying?
HENNESSEY: Right. Because as part of this plea agreements, you know, you proffer very, very detailed sets of facts, you know, in order to show exactly what your cooperation might look like.
[23:35:02] SCIUTTO: What your value is.
HENNESSEY: Oftentimes those are offered before a grand jury, so it is actually sworn statements.
BROWN: Wow. So, of course, the question is, you know, you were talking about if Mueller, Mueller could bring him back. But is Mueller safe? I mean, you know, the President has said he is not going to fire Robert Mueller, but then after something like this happens today, Shimon, you wonder is that really going to be the case.
PROKUPECZ: You never know, right. We keep hearing there are people from inside the Trump orbit that he is not happy with Mueller and how he could fire him at any day. That would just set off a chain of events that would be very difficult for the President to control. Look, if he was to fire Mueller, would it necessarily end this investigation? I mean I don't know. Maybe, Susan, you can probably talk about that better. But here is one option and one thing people have talked about, is perhaps he fires Sessions. Brings in a different Attorney General. That Attorney General is not recused like Sessions is in the Russia investigation. So perhaps the special counsel Mueller would now report to this Attorney General who has been put in place by Trump, which then gives Trump at least some control perhaps of the investigation. But that would be even difficult.
BROWN: But the Attorney General just say we don't need special counsel anymore if there is a new one? I mean this is all hypothetical.
ZELDIN: Yes, I mean I think the answer is probably no.
ZELDIN: But I think in the aftermath of the Flynn plea that any effort to interfere with Mueller's investigation has to be seen as abuse of power, and he walks himself down the Archibald cox getting fired, Richard Nixon. To Shimon's question, a new prosecutor is appointed, it is not like it goes away.
Remember when the President famously said, I relieved the pressure, I fired Comey. BROWN: Right.
PROKUPECZ: Not really. It didn't work out well.
BROWN: You wonder if Comey would have done what Mueller is doing now.
HENNESSEY: I wonder if Trump is capable of learning that lesson, right. Firing Comey, taking his (inaudible) steps? Don't underestimate Trump's sort of ability --
SCIUTTO: Have to read up on your history of the Saturday night massacre.
ZELDIN: Can we return to one quick thing that Shimon raised, which is this question is this implicates foreign policy. We have talked about this before, which is there is this thing called the Logan act which makes it a crime for a private citizen to interfere in the foreign relations of countries. That is exactly what happened here. If you take the indictment, the information on its face. They intervened with Egypt and with Russia with respect to a foreign policy dispute between the Obama administration and Israel essentially. That is exactly what the Logan act was there to prevent. It will be very interesting to see whether Mueller either, one, is willing to bring a Logan act case or uses it as leverage to say, you violated the Logan act, you want to test the legality of it, fine, get yourself a lawyer, spend a million dollars, and we'll see you in court.
SCIUTTO: To be fair, very, very seldom prosecuted on a mere Logan act.
ZELDIN: But this fits the four corners of that act.
BROWN: All right.
PROKUPECZ: We also have never had anything like this. So you can argue it is seldom used, never used, but we never had a situation like this.
BROWN: Unprecedented. All right. Thank you all so much. And up next, the mood at the White House and how the facts we learned today shed new light on President Trump's many denials of collusion or contacts between his team and the Russians.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you say whether you are aware that anyone who advised your campaign had contacts with Russia during the course of the election?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I told you General Flynn obviously was dealing so that is one person, but he was dealing as he should have been.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: During the election? TRUMP: No, nobody that I know of. Nobody.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you're not aware of any contacts during the course of the election?
TRUMP: How many times do I have to answer this question?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you just say yes or no on it?
TRUMP: Russia is a ruse.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[23:43:03] SCIUTTO: Continue to follow the breaking news tonight. A source close to the White House describes President Trump and his team as in denial on the Russia investigation. In the source's words, "totally in a bubble."
BROWN: We're told White House officials think the President will be exonerated by Mueller's team very soon, however, our source says the Trump team should be taking today's news about Michael Flynn's plea deal much more seriously. This is like a red alert, the source said. Our correspondents and analysts are joining us now to discuss all of this. You know, you go back, we learned a lot today in these court documents from this Flynn plea deal, and it makes you want to go back and listen to what some of the administration officials said around the time, particularly President Trump when he was asked in February about Michael Flynn's conversation with Kislyak. Let's take a listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you direct Mike Flynn to discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador?
TRUMP: No, I didn't.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Prior to your inauguration?
TRUMP: No, I didn't. But Mike, excuse me, no, I fired him because of what he said to Mike Pence, very simple. Mike was doing his job. He was calling countries and his counterparts. So it certainly would have been ok with me if he did it. I would have directed him to do it if I thought he wasn't doing it. I didn't direct him, but I would have directed him, because that is his job. And it came out that way, and in all fairness I watched Dr. Charles Krauthammer the other night say he was doing his job. And I agreed with him. Since then I have watched many other people say that. No, I didn't direct him, but I would have directed him if he didn't do it. Ok.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: All right. So you hear that. We find out today in the court documents, Manu, that there were members of the transition team, very senior members, who knew that Kislyak and Flynn spoke about sanctions. What do you make when you hear that, this is what the President said in February?
[23:45:02] RAJU: He obviously did not think Flynn did anything wrong by having these discussions during the time of the transition and the time in which the Obama administration had issued sanctions against Russia, right after -- in response to the Russia meddling which, of course, the President has downplayed all along. It really speaks to how the White House -- the President himself, sort of the affection and loyalty that he has had for Michael Flynn. This President values loyalty above anything else. It is perhaps one reason why he did not want to fire Michael Flynn for some short period of time after Sally Yates warned that he was susceptible to Russian blackmail, because he had some sympathy towards a figure who is very loyal to him on the campaign trail. So the President in some ways is trying to have it both ways, saying, I was in charge, I didn't direct him, but what he is, that is ok.
BROWN: He didn't think it was a big deal either, and that is another reason why -- Yeah.
SCIUTTO: That was pretty impressive verbal somersaulting there. I mean, he is both defending and denying, defending, and back to defending.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, which leads you to believe whether, in fact, he did direct Michael Flynn to do this. You could see he is sort of conflicted here about what he ought to say and what he -- you know, what should he say, what should he not say. He didn't want to -- he didn't want to throw Flynn under the bus, but, of course, he was going to fire Flynn. You know, he makes the point here that he fired him, because he lied to Mike Pence. Well, we now are raising questions about that. Yes, that story was published in "the Washington Post" they reacted to that, but did the President know before the whole Mike Pence imbroglio in fact what Mike Flynn was doing.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It appears a lot of people around the President knew about this.
PEREZ: It wasn't just that Flynn lied to Mike Pence or misled him or kept this information from him, it appears there's a whole host of other people that knew about this stuff.
SCIUTTO: Listen, we will have a lot more to talk about right after this break. Please stay with us. We will be right back.
[23:51:00] SCIUTTO: And welcome back. Truly monumental day in Washington. Former national security advisor Michael Flynn pleading guilty, admitting that he lied to the FBI and now cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. BROWN: And there are many questions to be answered in the days to
come. We want to go around the table one more time for some more thoughts.
SCIUTTO: Gloria Borger, I spoke to earlier with the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff. I asked him about the President in all this. Have a listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: In your view has the President lied about what communications his team had with Russia?
ADAM SCHIFF, 28TH CA REP: Well, abundantly and frequently in about just about every way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Abundantly and frequently in just about every way. I mean there's a lot of proof here the President lied. It's not the first time. At what point did the President's lies about this matter?
BORGER: Well, the special counsel right now is in the process of rolling up this case. And he is not there yet. And even if he were to decide that the President had lied, I think it becomes a political issue and not so much a legal issue. Because there are questions and you guys know this better man I do, about what you can do. And whether they can't force the President to testify, right?
PEREZ: I think the lies matter when it comes to building a case about obstruction, whether or not the purpose of these lies is to obstruct -- to throw sand in the eyes of investigators. Because he is known now for months the FBI has been look at this. And yet he is been going out there essentially trying to mislead the public about what exactly this was. He is called a witch-hunt. It's not. Look, it does matter I think when you get to the point you can reasonably say to people this was not about anything other than obstructing and trying to prevent the FBI and the special counsel from getting to bottom of what is very serious issue.
BROWN: And what you're seeing here is two officials now, George Papadopoulos and now Michael Flynn charged with lying to the FBI. What you're seeing is that, no lie is going to let you wiggle out of this investigation in terms of Robert Mueller and his team are serious business with what they are doing. And the obstruction of justice case is ongoing. And they're from all accounts going to cross every "t," dot every "I", interview everyone, before they wrap that up.
RAJU: And that has always been the one area of the investigation that is worried Republicans more than the collusion aspect. They're way more worried about obstruction, because this is more a cut and dry case in piecing together potential collusion between Russian officials and conspiracy, high levels of the Trump campaign. When it comes to the way the President acted in trying to kill this investigation, his mind-set and the way he tried to end these probes on Capitol Hill as well, clearly ending these investigations was front and center for the President.
SCIUTTO: So you cannot force the President to testify in this investigation?
PEREZ: No, the problem here is you can certainly subpoena him and he can plead the fifth and say I'm not going to provide that kind of testimony. In the end as Gloria said, this is going to be something that is going to be a political solution, I mean under the Justice Department guidelines as we know, you can't charge a sitting president with a crime. So, Robert Mueller will conclude his investigation, will draw up all the facts that he is got prepared for and send it over to congress. And then the politicians will have to make a decision as to whether or not this is something that is impeachable, this is high crime, a misdemeanor that deserves the treatment that that entails.
SCIUTTO: Wasn't lying one of the articles of impeachment --
BORGER: Yes, but I think what we also still want to know is underlying all of this, what were the Russians trying to do? And Mueller may be getting closer to that through this investigation, which is if there was no collusion, if there was no conspiracy, what the Russians were attempting to do by there -- with their contacts with people who are either in the transition or eventually in the inner circle.
[23:55:24] RAJU: And that is been the most (inaudible) things about these documents, from Papadopoulos to today's charging document, to learn about exactly what they know about Russia.
BROWN: And to think almost a year of the President being in office, this investigation is ongoing. It makes you wonder how much longer is it going to last. I mean I think we just seemly don't know the answer to that question, but of course we will continue to follow everything. Thank you so much for joining us this evening and spending your Friday night with us. The news continues next on CNN.